The former vice mayor of a city in Zhejiang Province appeared in an immigration court in the U.S. on Tuesday.
Yang Xiuzhu is China’s “most wanted” economic fugitive, and stands accused of accepting $41 million in bribes during her time as vice mayor of Wenzhou city. Yang fled China in 2003 after authorities launched an investigation into her time in office, writes Shannon Tiezi for The Diplomat.
“Most wanted” pursued from Europe to North America
Her appearance in immigration court moves her one step closer to repatriation, and a criminal trial in China. She previously escaped custody in the Netherlands, which was preparing to send her back to China, and attempted to reach the U.S. via Canada.
Yang was detained on the border for using a fake passport. Sources in China claim that U.S. immigration officers were tipped off by Chinese intelligence. She has been accused of “violating the terms of the Visa Waiver Program” and her first deportation hearing took place on Tuesday.
The former vice mayor is one of a number of economic criminals being hunted by China as part of a campaign launched in July 2014. Operation Fox Hunt is an attempt to bring criminals back to China to face trial, despite the fact that extradition treaties do not exist between Beijing and many Western nations.
Asylum claims complicate repatriation cases
Officials in Beijing released a list of the top 100 “most wanted” economic criminals as part of a new campaign known as “Sky Net.” 36 of the 100 are thought to be living in the U.S., which is a top destination for Chinese fugitives. Just two economic fugitives have been repatriated in the past decade.
Chinese fugitives often claim asylum in the U.S. on the grounds that they face persecution at home, complicating the process. Concerns over China’s human rights record are one reason why no extradition treaty exists between the two countries.
However Yang is by no means certain to be granted asylum given the fact that a similar request was already rejected by the Netherlands. Yang is one of a number of Chinese suspects which Xinhua claimed are using “complex regulations on extradition and jurisdiction to their advantage.” The newspaper made a case for “more international cooperation” on cases related to corruption.
Despite the possibility that Yang’s trial is a lengthy one, Xinhua was largely positive in its assessment of the situation. “Despite cross-border coordination difficulties, the [possible] deportation from the U.S. of the woman who tops China’s 100 most wanted list speaks volumes of the success of international collaboration on eradicating corruption,” it said.
Various economic fugitives known to U.S. authorities
Other Chinese fugitives currently subject to legal action in the U.S. include Qiao Jianjun and his former wife Zhao Shilian. Qiao is third on the “most wanted” list, and arrived in the U.S. in 2011 with Zhao, who is currently in custody charged with lying on her visa application with an intent to launder money.
Qiao faces the same charges but authorities have not managed to arrest him thus far.
Another Chinese economic fugitive from the top 100 list, Qiu Gengmin, is currently on trial for money laundering in the U.S., where he has applied for political asylum. Qiu’s lawyer claims that the Chinese authorities are persecuting his client for his role in leading a pro-democracy movement.
A further two suspects, He Yejun and his wife Huang Hong, were found to be living in Florida. The pair fled China accused of misusing public funds, and their whereabouts was only discovered after a civil lawsuit accused He of stealing $50 million from a business partner.