SHANGHAI: China’s Communist Party has launched an international “fox hunt” for corrupt officials, vowing to track fugitives to the four corners of the earth and bring them to justice.
Chinese officials have been lining their pockets and skipping the country since the 1980s, the Xinhua news agency reported this week, but the problem has now reached staggering proportions.
More than 750 errant civil servants were repatriated last year after fleeing China with more than £960m, according to figures released this week.
Reports have emerged this year of government officials and fraudsters escaping to countries including Uganda, Thailand, Malaysia and the United States with huge sums of public money.
“We will hunt them down and bring them to justice wherever they try to escape and hide,” Liu Dong, the deputy director of Beijing’s Economic Crime Investigation Department, vowed earlier this week at the launch of a campaign dubbed “Operation Fox Hunt 2014”.
The “fox hunt” is the latest battle in president Xi Jinping’s ongoing crusade against government corruption, an illness that he has warned could lead to the Communist Party’s demise.
The campaign, which has so far concentrated on “tigers and flies” – senior and junior members of government – has snared oil chiefs, heavyweight politicians and a top People’s Liberation Army (PLA) general since president Xi came to power in late 2012.
Now, the “fox hunt” will “block the last route of retreat for corrupt officials at a time when China’s major crackdown on graft has already narrowed the space for abuse of power,” Xinhua claimed.
Last year, 762 people were returned to China on suspicion of “criminality in taking advantage of their positions of power,” according to state media reports.
More than 10 billion yuan (£962m) was confiscated, according to the Supreme Court.
If Xi Jinping, China’s president since early 2013, is the hunt organiser, his master of hounds is Wang Qishan, a 66-year-old historian who runs Beijing’s feared anti-corruption unit, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Mr Wang is a Politburo Standing Committee member and as such one of China’s seven most powerful men.