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China targets officials with families abroad

BEIJING--China's anti-graft campaign is now targeting officials who have sent their spouses and children abroad, where they can create channels to potentially funnel illicit gains and establish footholds for eventual escape from the mainland.

Nearly 900, mostly mid-level, government officials in the southern province of Guangdong have been demoted or forced to resign or retire early after being identified as having spouses or offspring with permanent residency or citizenship abroad while they themselves continue to work on the mainland. Because they remain without their families, they are known colloquially as “naked officials” — a term popular with the public because of its mocking tone.

It is the first time a provincial government has taken action against them.

The move signals a new approach in President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign that takes aim at a phenomenon in Chinese politics that has hindered the Communist Party's efforts to curb the flight of crooked officials and their ill-gotten assets.

“The perception among the Chinese public is that these officials use their positions for their personal gains, then they send their families away and when the time comes, they are going to bail,” said Dali Yang, a China expert at the University of Chicago.

Guangdong authorities said they found more than 1,000 such officials, among whom about a fifth had promised to try to get their families to return to China. Though it's up for debate, the general definition of “naked officials” excludes officials whose children are only studying abroad but not holding foreign residency or passports — allowing the sons and daughters of top leaders to pursue expensive college degrees at top overseas universities.

Political analysts and state media reports said that with its proximity to semi-autonomous Hong Kong and its links to overseas Chinese communities around the world, Guangdong was the natural place for such efforts to be launched.

But the problem is by no means unique to Guangdong.

In 2012, Wang Guoqiang, the former Communist Party boss of the small northeastern Chinese city of Fengcheng, fled China to join his daughter in the United States. With him, Wang brought his wife and a rumored 200 million yuan ($30 million) in illicit funds, according to state media reports.

Months later, authorities in Liaoning province said they had launched an investigation into Wang for accepting bribes and violating party regulations on traveling overseas without permission. The party's discipline organ fired Wang from the party and his government posts. But he already had fled the country.

In a separate case, an investigation into Zhang Shuguang, the former deputy chief engineer of the now-defunct Railways Ministry in Beijing, found that his wife and daughter had immigrated to America where the family owned a large mansion in Los Angeles County. Zhang faces accusations of accepting 47.6 million yuan (US$8 million) in bribes and is awaiting trial.

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