China says hunt for overseas graft suspects will be long-term

BEIJING (Reuters) - Law enforcement officials must be prepare for a long struggle in the campaign to get corrupt officials who have fled abroad back to China, with 214 suspects being returned to the country as of the end of May, the Ministry of Public Security said. The government launched operation "Fox Hunt" to go after suspects who left China seeking refuge abroad, often taking large sums of money with them, as part of a campaign led by President Xi Jinping to stamp out pervasive corruption. Speaking at a meeting in the southern province of Guangdong, Meng Qingfeng, who is running the "Fox Hunt" campaign, urged his team to improve their investigating skills and employ a wide range of tactics to get suspects back to China. "We must have a long-term battle concept that does not slacken and is persistent," Meng said, according to a ministry statement released late on Tuesday. His team must become more professional in seeking to encourage suspects back to China, using legal means like extradition, and recovering illicit assets, he added. Of the 214 suspects returned to China this year, 78 came back voluntarily, the statement added. Last year, 680 fugitives were repatriated to China. Xi has launched a sweeping campaign against graft since assuming power in 2013, but has been hampered to an extent by difficulty in getting corrupt officials and assets back from overseas. China does not have extradition treaties with the United States and Canada - the two most popular destinations for suspected economic criminals. State media said last year that China is looking at signing an agreement with the United States to target assets illegally taken out of China by corrupt officials. Western countries have balked at signing extradition deals with China, partly out of concern about the integrity of its judicial system and treatment of prisoners. Rights groups say Chinese authorities use torture and that the death penalty is common in corruption cases. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)