Crime Agency Freezes Bank Accounts of Chinese Students Studying in U.K.

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Chinese students show support for Chinese President Xi Jinping as he visits Manchester University in northwest England, Oct. 23, 2015.
Chinese students show support for Chinese President Xi Jinping as he visits Manchester University in northwest England, Oct. 23, 2015.

Authorities in the U.K. have frozen dozens of bank accounts belonging to Chinese nationals studying in the county, citing money-laundering concerns.

The National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) said it would seek to freeze 95 bank accounts containing an estimated £3.6 million (U.S.$ 4.7 million) in funds "suspected to be either the proceeds of crime or intended to be used for criminal purposes."

It said the accounts were held mainly by overseas students studying in the U.K. who may be unaware that their operation of their accounts was "potentially illegal."

"If the investigation can prove that the funds are the proceeds of crime or were intended to be used in unlawful conduct, they will subsequently be forfeited," the NECC said in a statement on its website.

It said some international fund transfers from China bore the hallmarks of "smurfing"; an expression that refers to frequent, small deposits made to avoid scrutiny.

"In this operation, international transfers from China were declared as financial support to an overseas student but then used by criminals for non-student related activities," it said, saying that the goods were used to buy goods that were then sent back to China with no obvious connection between the payee and the person ordering.

The Chinese Embassy said it was trying to seek "verification" of recent media reports of the operation.

"We advise the relevant Chinese citizens to cooperate actively in the investigation and assert their legitimate rights and interests through legal means," the embassy said in a statement on its website.

"The Chinese Embassy in the UK will provide assistance if necessary to the relevant Chinese citizens within the purview of its responsibility," it said.

Capital flight connection?

A China-based bank employee, who gave only her surname Sun, said the payments could be connected to capital flight from China.

"This is very likely, but you would need to look at the family background of the kids involved," Sun said. "If their parents run a company, then it could indicate that their parents are using their children's accounts to send money overseas for certain investments."

Current regulations cap the amount of money each Chinese citizen can send out of the country to U.S.$50,000, Sun said.

"This [limit] applies to anyone over 18, but the key thing is that large amounts of money of uncertain origin is likely to give rise to suspicions of money-laundering overseas," she said.

China recently criminalized underground foreign exchange transactions, in a bid to crack down on individuals and corporations who try to find ways around the foreign exchange restrictions.

Anyone linked to a cumulative transaction volume of five million yuan (U.S.$737,000) or illegal profits of 100,000 yuan (U.S.$14,749) could face up to five years' imprisonment and a hefty fine, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper reported last month.

Cumulative transactions over 25 million yuan (U.S.$3.69 million) or 500,000 yuan (U.S.$73,745) in illegal profits, could see heavier penalties still, including the confiscation of property, the paper said.

The thresholds for prosecution will be halved if the violator has a criminal record, or refused to cooperate with authorities to trace illegal capital flows, it said.

The Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to ruling Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, said several Chinese students had asked the embassy for assistance after their bank accounts were frozen.

The students were targeted by the NECC after they privately exchanged money through WeChat, which could violate both U.K. and Chinese law, the paper said.

"Many overseas students like to use these groups to exchange money for convenience," it said. "But few of them are aware that they could be illegal."

The paper said it had found "many money exchange groups" on the popular social media app WeChat offering far better exchange rates than those typically offered by banks.

It cited a Chinese citizen who graduated from the University of Leeds as saying that he had privately exchanged a total of 200,000 yuan (U.S.$29,800) to pound sterling using WeChat.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Comments (4)

Anonymous Reader

Maybe they're all from the Red Elite university created by the Chinese communist party.

Mar 25, 2019 02:25 PM

Anonymous Reader

If I'm blind I'm not the only one because more and more people discover the real motives of these so-called Chinese students of being in the western countries. Laundering money for their bosses and families,and spying for the Chinese commie party back home.On the Chinese students I beg to differ Victor.

Mar 19, 2019 04:24 PM


Look, if you think I post comments on RFA articles in order to exculpate China's government of its shameful conduct, you're very much mistaken, as a search of my many previous comments will tell you.

But there is such a thing as "tarring everyone with the same brush", which is what you are doing in effectively branding all overseas Chinese students as spies or at least agents, in some form or other, of the Chinese government.

Doing so puts you in the wrong, not only factually but morally. What's worse, this tarring everybody with the same brush is exactly what the Chinese government is currently doing to possibly a million or more Uighurs, Kazakhs and other groups, branding them all as terrorists in order to justify detaining them without charge for indefinite periods because it sees them and their non-Han culture as a potential source of collective dissidence in the face of CCP hegemony.

This kind of arbitrary detention of Chinese citizens, whatever their background, is of course just business as usual in a sense for the Chinese government, as any attentive reader of the world's media will know, but we have not seen arbitrary detention being used on the present scale since the Cultural Revolution.

So please go and have another think about the implications of your position. How is your sweeping condemnation of all Chinese overseas students any better or any more justifiable than the Chinese government's indiscriminate condemnation of millions of its Uighur minorities? Two wrongs don't make a right.

Mar 20, 2019 08:37 PM

Anonymous Reader

Dear Victor, I suspect you've got a Chinese girlfriend or boyfriend.

Mar 14, 2019 01:30 AM


You suspect wrongly, and your error complements the blind prejudice you've already shown.

Mar 18, 2019 04:55 PM

Anonymous Reader

Dear Victor, I read your post with passion but it won't change my mind because you're just accomplice of what the Chinese communist regime has been doing inside and outside China. Let's end all this here. Keep your faith in communism with you but I still cherish - even though it's not perfect - a democratic society I live in.

Mar 21, 2019 11:21 AM

Anonymous Reader

Now you can see more clearly that Chinese students, in all over the world especially in the west, are money-launderers or spies for the Chinese regime.

Mar 08, 2019 11:48 AM


Please don't brand all Chinese overseas students as criminals or spies; the majority, in my experience, are ordinary, law-abiding people studying at great personal expense for academic qualifications they hope will enhance their career prospects.

Mar 08, 2019 06:12 PM





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