World

Chinese fugitive wanted on corruption charges since 2001 returned from US

A most-wanted Chinese fugitive suspected of graft and bribery was brought back from the U.S. on Friday after he fled there in 2001, officials said, as Beijing seeks stronger cooperation from Washington.

Yang Jinjun — the businessman brother of a former deputy mayor in the eastern city of Wenzhou — is the first person to be repatriated to China from the U.S. since the "Sky Net" operation targeting 100 fugitives was launched in April, the Ministry of Supervision said.

There is no extradition treaty between Beijing and Washington. The U.S. has been reluctant to send back Chinese fugitives, citing shortcomings in China's rule of law, opaque courts, and poor human rights records. That has made the U.S. a top destination for Chinese fugitives.

But, Beijing is seeking to change that and sees the return of Yang as progress in boosting the U.S.-China cooperation on law enforcement.

"The repatriation of Yang Jinjun fully displays the increasing support that China has won over from the global community toward its efforts in chasing down fugitives and illicit gains," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Friday.

Washington has said it is willing to fight crime with Beijing, but also has demanded solid evidence on suspects who have absconded to the U.S.

As part of its anti-corruption campaign, China has sought to repatriate businesspeople and government officials accused of economic crimes. The Sky Net operation follows the 2014 "Fox Hunt" campaign that caught 680 fugitives, according to China's Ministry of Public Security.

Sky Net is a multi-agency operation that targets high-profile fugitives, such as Yang's sister Yang Xiuzhu, who has been detained in the United States but is seeking political asylum. She is wanted in China for embezzling more than $40 million while she was deputy mayor and held another top post in Wenzhou.

China hopes the campaign will deter corrupt officials from fleeing the country.

"It shows that no matter how far and how long the corrupt officials have fled away, we have the ability to hunt them down," Hong said.

The last prominent repatriation case out of the United States was in 2004, when Chinese bank executive Yu Zhendong, accused of embezzling $485 million with other defendants, was sent back on the condition that Yu would not be tortured or given the death penalty, which is common in China even for less serious corruption cases.