Victory for ‘Sky Net’: China’s ‘Most Wanted’ Fugitive Is in U.S. Custody
Yang Xiuzhu topped the "most wanted" fugitives list China circulated last month, although it turns out that U.S. authorities had already detained her last June.
In what looks like a potential victory for China’s sweeping overseas anti-corruption crusade -- which is known, bizarrely, as “Sky Net” -- U.S. authorities say they’ve detained China’s “most wanted” fugitive, a former senior official accused of embezzling more than $40 million.
In what looks like a potential victory for China’s sweeping overseas anti-corruption crusade — which is known, bizarrely, as “Sky Net” — U.S. authorities say they’ve detained China’s “most wanted” fugitive, a former senior official accused of embezzling more than $40 million.
Bloomberg reported on Wednesday night that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained Yang Xiuzhu last year, more than a decade after she fled China in 2003. Bloomberg apparently confirmed the news when it found Yang’s name on ICE’s database.
ICE says it’s holding Yang “pending removal to China,” where she’s wanted for allegedly taking millions in kickbacks from the building projects she oversaw in Zhejiang province.
Curiously, long after U.S. authorities had reportedly detained her last June, Yang still topped the “most wanted” fugitives list that China circulated last month. The list profiles 100 fugitives that the People’s Republic wants on graft and other charges, many of whom are believed to be living in the United States. (It’s worth noting that more politically sensitive fugitives, believed to include much higher-ranking corrupt officials, didn’t make the public list.)
It’s not clear if Yang’s inclusion on the list means China didn’t know about her detention or was simply an attempt to nudge U.S. authorities, with whom China is hoping to cooperate more closely on its sweeping anti-corruption campaign — and who haven’t offered a timeline for sending Yang back to China. Last month’s most-wanted list notes that Yang is believed to be in the United States but says nothing about her detention.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington didn’t respond to requests for comment about why Yang had remained on the list after she’d been detained. When asked if and when the United States had notified China of her detention, ICE spokesperson Lou Martinez stated only that “as a foreign law enforcement fugitive, Yang is an ICE Enforcement Priority,” and declined to offer other details. Reuters reports that ICE is keeping the 68-year-old Yang in a detention facility in New Jersey.
Before her many years on the run, Yang had risen to become vice mayor in the coastal city of Wenzhou and a senior bureau official for Zhejiang province, where she allegedly made wild profits from the construction projects under her authority. Her potentially shady property deals weren’t confined to China, either: Chinese media have reported that she bought a five-story building near Manhattan’s Times Square in the 1990s with the help of relatives.
Fearing prosecution by Chinese authorities, Yang fled to Singapore in 2003 with her daughter and other family members and was reportedly spotted in San Francisco before turning up in the Netherlands in 2005. Last May, Dutch authorities said they’d rejected her application for political asylum and were preparing to send her back to China when she somehow managed to escape detention. Within a month, she’d entered the United States by train with a fake Dutch passport — an item that U.S. authorities were looking out for after a tip-off from China.
China lacks an extradition treaty with the United States, which is wary of returning fugitives to a country where they could be unfairly persecuted. But the United States can choose to hand over certain individuals even without a treaty, and that’s something China has increasingly pushed since Xi Jinping became president and launched a sweeping anti-corruption campaign in 2013.
Last year, China’s colorfully-named Operation Fox Hunt repatriated an unprecedented 680 former officials. So far this year, Fox Hunt’s successor, Sky Net, has brought back 150 graft suspects from 32 countries, according to the China Daily.
It’s not yet clear what two-word catchphrase China will choose for its global sweep next year, but what’s sure is that the campaign shows no signs of slowing.
Photo via Central Commission for Discipline Inspection
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