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China Encourages U.S. Cooperation In Catching Corrupt Officials Overseas


China wants its corrupt officials back and the money they've taken with them to the U.S. This is an issue likely to come up this week when senior Chinese and American officials hold wide-ranging talks in Washington, D.C. NPR's Anthony Kuhn explains why it's a complicated matter, starting with the view from China.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Foreign language spoken).

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: In a report on Chinese state television, a reporter tracks two local officials who allegedly took the money and fled. The trail leads to a quiet street in the Seattle suburb of Newcastle. The reporter goes up to a four-bedroom house with a two-car garage which neighbors say sold for more than half a million dollars.


KUHN: A 20-something man opens the door. He speaks Chinese and he refuses to answer the reporter's questions. This is believed to be the home of Zhao Shilan, her ex-husband and their son. They reportedly embezzled money from a government grain warehouse they managed in central China. They used some of that money to apply for investor immigrant visas in 2008. In March, a federal grand jury indicted Zhao and her ex-husband on charges for conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, money laundering and international transport of stolen funds. The pair could serve time in a federal prisoner or be sent back to China. Peter Carr is a spokesman for the Department of Justice.

PETER CARR: The United States is not a safe haven for fugitives from any nation.

KUHN: The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with China, but Carr points out that the two sides can cooperate in cases involving money laundering and other crimes. Of course, Carr says, the U.S. can't just hand suspected fugitives over. First China has to provide solid evidence.

CARR: If that happens, the Department of Justice will take appropriate enforcement action. Too often, China has not provided the evidence we've requested. It is not sufficient to simply provide a list of names.

KUHN: In the past two years, China has nabbed thousands of officials in a sweeping anticorruption campaign. Part of that campaign targets officials who have fled abroad. It's dubbed Operation Skynet. Huang Feng, a criminal law expert at Beijing Normal University, says ordinary Chinese are furious at officials who abscond overseas with public funds. And he says Beijing is under increasing pressure to show that corrupt officials have nowhere to hide.

HUANG FENG: (Through interpreter) If their leaders can't solve this problem, China's people may begin to doubt whether they can succeed in their fight against corruption.

KUHN: In April, China issued global arrest warrants for a hundred fugitives. Most of them are believed to be corrupt officials hiding in the U.S. and Canada. Huang Feng says many of the officials got there using similar methods.

FENG: (Through interpreter) Before their cases are discovered, they apply for immigrant status for their families and get permanent resident status in the U.S. Then they launder their bribe money and move it offshore.

KUHN: Huang adds that China is certainly looking for more than just the 100 fugitives on its wanted list. He says there may be additional cases that are probably too politically sensitive to make public. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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