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China asks US to help hunt more than 100 "economic fugitives"

[BEIJING] China has asked the United States to help it track down more than 100 people suspected of corruption and who China believes are in the United States, a US official said on Friday.

The official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said those on the list had Chinese names but it was not clear if they were all Chinese nationals.

"The majority of them are related to crimes of corruption or economic malfeasance," he said.

"The list is not precisely clear in terms of the details of the nature of the crimes, the evidence or the whereabouts" of the accused.

Chinese law enforcement authorities have not provided sufficient evidence or background information for US police to track down the suspects in most cases, he said.

China has vowed to expand a "fox hunt" for corrupt officials and business executives beyond its borders but it does not have an extradition treaty with the United States, which China has said is one of the most popular destinations for so-called economic fugitives.

Western governments have balked at setting up extradition agreements with China because rights groups say torture is widely used by Chinese authorities and the death penalty is common in corruption cases.

The US official said China was seeking many more suspects in US territory than the United States was looking for in China.

Xu Hong, a senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official, said last week China was considering suing people suspected of committing financial crimes who had fled to the United States and elsewhere with billions of dollars.

Mr Xu said China had tried to persuade the United States to sign onto an extradition agreement but it was "not ready".

The US official said an extradition treaty was probably "not on the cards" because of legal constraints and the likely difficulties in getting a treaty ratified by the US Congress.

He said the suspects could be repatriated to China through immigration channels or tried in US courts if there was sufficient evidence their actions constituted a crime under US law. He said seizure of illicit assets was also a possibility that could have a "therapeutic impact" on ties.

Since China launched Operation "Fox Hunt", about 400 economic fugitives had returned, the official Xinhua news agency has said.

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