Former movie financier Shi Jianxiang enjoys his moments in the limelight. An internet search of his name returns various photos of him posing with celebrities such as Mike Tyson, Mel Gibson and Sylvester Stallone.
Perhaps it’s surprising that the 57 year-old hasn’t stayed more out of view, after fleeing to the United States in 2016 on allegations that he had masterminded a Rmb43 billion ($6.3 billion) fundraising fraud in China’s movie industry (see WiC317).
A year later, Shi still managed to pose for a photo with Donald Trump at a New York fundraiser (Shi in a Panama hat, Trump giving a thumbs-up).
Going sometimes by the English name of Morgan, Shi was finally arrested last month on charges of visa fraud (he was detained at a convention in Las Vegas, where he was promoting a cryptocurrency).
Soon afterwards he was indicted on two counts of fraud and misuse of US non-immigrant visas. He has been denied bail and will stay in detention before a trial in Miami. He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Shi may prefer to serve jail time in the US rather than face a trial in China. Other nationals trying to stay out of reach of the Chinese courts have hoped that a tense relationship between the two governments would prevent more repatriations from happening. That doesn’t always hold true. Shortly before President Xi Jinping talked to his counterpart Joe Biden this month, the US authorities deported several Chinese nationals back to China. One of them was a woman found guilty of trespassing at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in 2019. China’s anti-corruption watchdog announced another repatriation last week, this time of Xu Guojun, who had been on the run for 20 years after a massive embezzlement of bank funds.
On the other hand, Beijing has closed the file on the controversial case of Daniel Hsu, an American national who had been blocked from leaving China since 2017. Hsu hadn’t been charged with any crimes himself but had claimed that his detention was an attempt to force his own father to return to China over yet another round of embezzlement charges.
In an earlier setback to efforts to cooperate more closely over repatriations of criminals, Washington arrested eight Chinese individuals last year who were believed to be part of Beijing’s Operation Fox Hunt (a campaign to bring back high-profile fugitives; see WiC259). The group was charged with unauthorised surveillance and intimidation of US nationals on American soil.
The more recent repatriations seems to have been designed to cool tensions between the two governments ahead of the Biden-Xi virtual summit, the New York Times has reported, although the repatriation of Xu has been hailed as a particular success by China’s state media, vindicating efforts to hunt down fugitives and recover state-owned assets.
Xu was the former head of a Bank of China branch in Kaiping in southern Guangdong. He fled to the US in 2001, where he has spent much of the last two decades in jail. More than Rmb2 billion ($312 million) of the stolen funds have been recovered but he will now face prosecution in his homeland.
“No matter where corrupt fugitives flee, or how long they hide, they will never escape legal sanction,” vowed the CCDI, China’s anti-graft agency.
There are still about a hundred fugitives on the CCDI’s wanted list who mostly live in the US. Further collaboration between the two governments in returning them to China would be an indicator of improving bilateral ties. Just as for Shi, it will be interesting to see whether Guo Wengui, a controversial tycoon who has stoked up all sorts of speculation about the lives of China’s political elite (see WiC363), will ever be sent back across the Pacific.
Guo is said to be a friend of Steve Bannon – in fact Trump’s former adviser was arrested on Guo’s yacht by law enforcement officials last year. Five months ago the Washington Post reported that Guo controlled an online news network that had become “a potent platform for disinformation” in the US, including “promoting false election-fraud claims”.
That being the case Guo probably shouldn’t count on too much sympathy from the Biden administration, if the Chinese press harder for his return.
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