Bid to Trace Chinese Officials' Corrupt Assets Overseas 'Scratches Surface'

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A view of the Villa Fontaine Saint-Georges, a mansion in Cannes, France owned by the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, Aug. 8, 2013.
A view of the Villa Fontaine Saint-Georges, a mansion in Cannes, France owned by the wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, Aug. 8, 2013.

Attempts by Beijng's ruling Chinese Communist Party, still reeling from the Bo Xilai corruption and murder scandal, to track down overseas assets bought with corrupt money are unlikely to do much more than scratch the surface, analysts said on Friday.

The United States, the U.K., and Australia are among the top destinations for China's runaway corrupt officials, official media reports say.

"Property is the easiest form of transaction [to trace], because the house is there for all to see, and often they are very luxurious," Beijing-based veteran journalist Gao Yu said in an interview on Friday.

"But I have my doubts that they are really going to go after all [corrupt officials overseas]," she said. "It's more likely that they will just pick on individuals."

Freezing assets

China’s corrupt officials and crooked businessmen have smuggled billions of dollars overseas, much of which has pushed up property prices in exclusive areas of London, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, and Toronto, recent reports suggest.

Now, China is calling for more widespread cooperation from other countries in freezing the assets of officials who abscond with public funds, and have spend recent months investigating a potentially vast overseas property portfolio amassed by corrupt officials after three decades of economic reform, official media reported.

Amendments to the Criminal Procedural Law which came into effect on Jan. 1 gave greater powers to prosecutors, who previously could only freeze the assets of officials under probe for crimes committed while in office.

Now, they can apply to the courts for an order confiscating the illicit assets of officials suspected of corruption, even if the suspects are missing or dead, even if the assets are overseas.

Under a campaign launched by incoming anti-corruption czar Wang Qishan, and in the wake of revelations about the luxury villa in southern France owned by the wife of disgraced former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, Beijing is now homing in on foreign assets owned by its officials.

China and Canada announced in July they would cooperate more closely to combat transnational crime, by seizing, sharing and returning the proceeds of criminal activity bilaterally.

Overseas rush

According to Beijing-based legal scholar Yu Meisun, officials with corrupt sources of income are rushing to pour it into overseas property out of fears for the future of Communist Party rule.

"It's a day-of-doom mentality," Yu said. "Everyone is thinking that Communist Party rule can't last, and that people with money will be at risk."

"They have inflated property markets in many countries, pushing up prices that were already very high in the most affluent neighborhoods," he said.

Last month, a property report by Deutsche Bank showed Chinese nationals were among the largest groups of buyers of mid-to-high end properties in London, in a market where the lowest priced accommodation was mostly acquired by U.K. citizens.

The report also showed that many Chinese were buying property for their children.

'Shock and awe' campaign

Last month, Wang Qishan called for a campaign of "shock and awe" against graft in the ranks of the party, in an apparent move to make a personal mark on a drive started by President Xi Jinping.

Wang, who heads the party's feared investigative agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, urged his staff to spare no effort in rooting out corruption, as he launched a second round of investigations throughout party ranks.

Wang's teams are now probing officials and departments in six provinces and four government departments, including the official news agency Xinhua and the Commerce Ministry, following a similar round of inspections begun in May.

President Xi Jinping, who took over leadership last November, has warned that the party must beat graft in order to survive, and has launched a campaign targeting powerful "tigers" as well as lowly "flies."

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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