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US may deport indicted ex-wife of fugitive Chinese official

The US may deport to China the ex-wife of a fugitive Chinese official indicted on money laundering and immigration fraud charges, Reuters reported on March 19.

The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday indicted Jianjun Qiao, the former director of a government grain storage facility in central China, and his ex-wife, Shilan Zhao, accusing them of funneling stolen money into the United States and fraudulently obtaining US visas.

Zhao was arrested in Washington state and held without bail while Qiao, her former husband, remains at large.

Ronald Cheng, an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, said one option was for Zhao to be deported back to China for violating immigrations law by falsely claiming to be married to Qiao and lying about the source of their money to obtain a U.S. visa.

U.S. officials said they do not know Qiao's whereabouts. Zhao could face deportation if convicted of the immigration charges to get around the lack of an extradition treaty, the prosecutor said. If caught, Qiao may also face deportation.

The indictment states the couple bought a home in the Seattle suburb of Newcastle with approximately $500,000 of laundered money gleaned from fraudulent transactions related to the huge grain storehouse in Henan Province, China, where Qiao served as director from 1998 to 2011.

There is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and China, but officials are discussing other methods to send Chinese fugitives back to China from the United States if they are apprehended.

China's anti-graft chief and Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Qishan was preparing to visit the US to seek help on fugitives,the Financial Times reported.

The Ministry of Public Security launched "Operation Fox Hunt" last year to track down fleeing officials and since then more than 500 fugitives with over 3 billion yuan (HK$3.8 billion) in assets offshore have been returned to China, according to the authorities.

One of the operation's biggest problems is tracking down fugitives in the United States, Australia and Canada, which are attractive destinations for fleeing officials because they do not have extradition treaties with China.

In some cases China would send agents to persuade fugitives to end their exile, but in others it would provide evidence of criminal activity to host countries to repatriate them for illegal immigration directly or via a third country. The office also gave evidence so that host countries could prosecute the fugitives under local laws, the party's anti-graft agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), said on Tuesday.

The CCDI said illicit assets were repatriated through various means, from bilateral law enforcement cooperation deals, to local civil litigation, and criminal asset seizure laws abroad or in China. Another option was to reach a settlement with the suspect or family to return any ill-gotten gains.

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