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Beijing calls for an international "fox" hunt

Yancheng Prison, east of Beijing, offers convicted senior officials relatively luxurious digs.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's campaign against corruption focuses on high-ranking and local officials, known respectively as "tigers" and "flies." Now he is also going after "foxes" -- allegedly corrupt individuals who have fled the country.

     Beijing has officially asked the U.S. and French governments for help with the chase. To sweeten the deal, it is offering to share whatever ill-gotten assets are seized, from houses and cars to bank deposits.

     China has informed France that it is hunting for 10 economic fugitives that fled there, including bribery suspect Yang Xianghong. Yang, a former Communist Party chief of a district in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, was part of a delegation that visited Paris in 2008. When his colleagues were about to fly home, he told them he wanted to stay behind a while to get treatment for a bad back. He never returned.

     Robert Gelli, France's director of criminal affairs and the No. 3 official in the country's Justice Ministry, last November visited Beijing and put in a request: He wanted to see a prison. If the French government was going to consider deporting fugitives, he said, it wanted to see what conditions the foxes would be subjected to.

     France had made such requests before, to no avail. This time, Chinese officials agreed.

     Gelli's delegation was taken 42km east of the capital to Yancheng Prison. The facility is controlled directly by the Ministry of Justice and is often a destination for convicted senior officials. The place is no dingy lockup: Gelli was impressed by the 100-meter flowerbed, soccer field-size courtyards, gym complete with massage chairs and halal menu in the cafeteria.

     Yancheng could easily be mistaken for a college campus or holiday resort. Beijing evidently wanted to show that any fox in a box would be treated well. But when the French delegation asked for a guarantee that the death penalty would not be imposed, the Chinese representatives were noncommittal.

     According to the Dui Hua Foundation, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization, China in 2013 executed an estimated 2,400 prisoners -- more than the rest of the world combined. For countries like France, which abolished capital punishment in 1981, this is a major obstacle in the way of legal cooperation.

About that due process ...

The U.S. is one of the most popular destinations for fleeing foxes. After all, the country does not have an extradition agreement with China. France signed one in 2007 but has yet to ratify it.

     Washington, however, is not thrilled about its shores being seen as a safe haven for accused criminals. It is open to cooperating in the fox hunt.

     At an annual meeting of law enforcement officials from both sides, held in Beijing last December, the Americans pointed out that despite the lack of an extradition treaty, there are ways to crack down on corrupt officials. One would be to prosecute them under the U.S. judicial system. Another would be to seize their assets in the U.S. A third option would be to deport the fugitives for unrelated reasons, such as visa fraud.

     In each case, the U.S. would require Chinese authorities to hand over detailed evidence.

     So far, China's enthusiasm for ensnaring the foxes has not been matched by its willingness to hand over such evidence. At the meeting, the Chinese submitted a list of over 100 individuals believed to be in the U.S. but left out their passport numbers, dates of birth and the reasons they are wanted.

     The Americans have repeatedly reminded the Chinese that the U.S. has a clear legal process: An investigation produces evidence, which leads to prosecution, judgment, sentencing and, finally, imprisonment.

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