Chinese emigration continues to grow as the nation becomes increasingly wealthy. However, a handful of those leaving the country are wanted financial criminals, and they are heading to all corners of the world. While the United States and Canada continue to be popular destinations for corrupt Chinese on the run, Australia has become increasingly attractive to those hiding illicit money because of a greater hesitation to extradite criminals.
China’s state media has publicly called Australia a “haven for escaping sin” in the wake of a global manhunt operation to track down the country’s top 100 fugitives in an effort dubbed Operation Fox Hunt. According to the list published by the country’s anti-corruption bureau, the Commission of Disciplinary Inspection, Australia is the third most popular destination for Chinese financial criminals. Among the top 100, 10 are said to be in Australia.
The growing popularity of Australia as a haven in large part has to do with its hesitancy to extradite Chinese criminals back to their home country. “China is pressuring Australia to revive a bilateral extradition treaty that was signed by the [John] Howard government in 2007 but never ratified by the Australian parliament,” Neil Thomas, a scholar at the Australian Center on China in the World at the Australian National University, wrote in an op-ed Tuesday in East Asia Forum, a quarterly academic magazine. Though Australian officials have expressed consideration of the treaty, likely for fear of jeopardizing other economic ties, Australian authorities have yet to act on any possible requests of extradition from China.
“The extradition of corrupt cadres to China ... contradicts Australia’s commitment to upholding human rights and the rule of law, both of which are underlying principle[s] of Australia’s engagement with the international community,” Thomas added.
A report by the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental anti-money laundering body, released earlier this year warned that Australia’s housing market is a high-risk target for money laundering originating in the Asia-Pacific region, and has attracted a lot of Chinese funds, much of which may have links to corruption. Chinese investment accounted for 12 percent of Australia’s new property purchases in 2014, particularly in big cities like Sydney or Melbourne, more than any other foreign investor.