Charged with Graft in China, Some Fugitives Are Finding Luxury in U.S.

Stephanie Saul and Dan Levin, New York Times, May 15, 2015

Even before his name appeared on the “most wanted” list, holes had emerged in the immigrant success story of Wei Chen.

His business partner sued him last year, alleging that nearly $50 million was missing from their development project in Plantation, Fla. The ensuing litigation revealed that Mr. Chen had changed his name from He Yejun, and that he had once been a top executive in a state-owned beer company in China.

When the Chinese government released a list last month of what it described as its leading 100 fugitives accused of economic crimes–including 40 people believed to be hiding in the United States–there was He Yejun’s name, along with that of his wife.

They were accused of misappropriating funds in China before moving to the United States in the late 1990s. Records show that among Mr. Chen’s luxury purchases since immigrating are a $2 million condo near Miami, a Bentley and a 70-foot yacht owned through a corporation.

The highly publicized release of the most-wanted list comes as President Xi Jinping presses an anticorruption crackdown that has already brought down one of the country’s most powerful former officials and sent scores of security agents on a global chase for economic fugitives and their ill-gotten gains.

Last year alone, 680 fugitives suspected of economic crimes were repatriated from 69 countries and regions in the operation known as Fox Hunt, according to the state news agency Xinhua.

This newest phase of the campaign, named Sky Net, was rolled out last month with the publication in Chinese news media of a collection of Interpol alerts that also included one for Yang Xiuzhu, a former deputy mayor of Wenzhou whose stature earned her the top placement on the list.

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The United States was identified as the leading destination by the Chinese authorities, with Canada second and New Zealand and Australia tied for third. The four countries do not have extradition treaties with China, partly because of concerns about due process of law, human rights violations and excessive punishment in China.

The Chinese authorities say the reluctance of the four countries to hand over suspects has made them especially attractive havens for suspected economic fugitives.

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Whether those on the list are truly China’s most wanted is a question of some debate. Chinese news reports say Beijing has handed Washington a far larger list of about 150 fugitives believed to be in the country.

 

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In April, the homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, met in Beijing with China’s minister of public security, and both sides agreed to improve mutual cooperation on the repatriation of fugitives and illegal immigrants.

 

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The presence of Chinese fugitives in the United States raises questions about how they were admitted to the country in the first place. There is evidence that several may have lied to the immigration authorities.

Qiao Jianjun, 51, who is No. 3 on the fugitive list, is accused in China of embezzling nearly $4 million from the large state-owned grain warehouse he ran in Zhoukou from 1998 to 2011. A federal indictment in Los Angeles last year alleged that Mr. Qiao, and his ex-wife, Zhao Shilan, who is not on the list, lied about their marital status and source of funds to obtain a visa under a program that provides a special path to citizenship for those who invest $500,000. The couple purchased a home near Seattle through a shell company. Mr. Qiao remains at large.

A Justice Department spokesman, Peter Carr, cited the California indictment as an example of how the agency “has repeatedly shown that it will vigorously pursue prosecutions” involving charges of money laundering or other criminal activity by fugitives sought by China.

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