December 15, 2014 / 6:03 AM / 5 years ago

Canada, China to sign deal on return of fugitives' seized assets

BEIJING (Reuters) - Canada is set to sign a deal with China to return ill-gotten assets seized from those suspected of economic crimes, the official China Daily reported on Monday, as Beijing works to track down corrupt officials who have fled overseas.

The world’s second-largest economy has vowed to pursue a “fox hunt” for corrupt officials and business executives, and their assets, beyond its borders.

But western countries have balked at signing extradition deals with China, partly out of concern about the integrity of its judicial system and treatment of prisoners.

The pact will cover “the return of property related to people who would have fled to Canada and would have been involved in corrupt activities”, Canada’s ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, told the China Daily in an interview.

A spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird promised to provide a comment on Monday.

China has extradition pacts with 39 countries but not the United States or Canada, which are among the two most popular destinations for suspected economic fugitives, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Rights groups say torture is widely used by Chinese authorities and the death penalty is common in corruption cases.

China’s Foreign Ministry has said it is considering suing people suspected of financial crimes who have fled abroad.

Lai Changxing, once China’s most-wanted fugitive, fled to Canada with his family in 1999, seeking refugee status after what he called politically motivated accusations of having run a multi-billion-dollar smuggling operation.

After a Canadian court rejected his refugee bid, dismissing concerns he could be tortured or executed if sent home, Lai was deported in 2011 and was jailed for life the next year.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to go after high-ranking “tigers” as well as lowly “flies” in his campaign against corruption.

The Washington-based Global Financial Integrity Group estimates that $1.08 trillion flowed out of China illegally from 2002 to 2011.

China this month asked the U.S. to help it track down more than 100 people suspected of corruption. At least 428 Chinese suspects were captured abroad by the end of October under the “fox hunt” campaign, state media reported.

Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in OTTAWA; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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