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China says family cut off funds to get most-wanted graft suspect back

Family members cut off funds and were lobbied by senior members of the Chinese community in the United States as part of efforts to get China’s most-wanted graft suspect to give herself up, the Communist Party’s corruption watchdog said on Thursday.

Yang Xiuzhu, a former deputy director of Wenzhou’s construction bureau in the booming eastern province of Zhejiang, surrendered to Chinese authorities after spending 13 years in hiding overseas. She returned to China on Wednesday in a major victory for the country’s overseas hunt for fugitive officials.

Giving details of how China was able to persuade Yang to surrender, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said all of her relatives at home and abroad had advised her to come back.

They “even took the initiative to cut off lawyer fees and living expenses, assisting us in the job of persuading her to come back”, it said in a statement on its website.

The heads of the Wenzhou and Zhejiang clan associations in New York and other “patriotic overseas Chinese leaders” fully supported and cooperated in the mission to get Yang back, the commission said.

“They advised and guided Yang Xiuzhu and her relatives, and urged on the US side to repatriate her as soon as possible.”

The aim was to make sure Yang had “no money to spend, nobody to rely on and no way to escape”, it added.

With Chinese and US officials on her back and in the face of being abandoned by her relatives, Yang’s resistance crumbled and she decided to return, the commission said.

Yang fled China in April 2003 and sought political asylum in France, the Netherlands and then the United States.

It has not been possible to reach Yang or a legal representative in China for comment.

In April last year, China published a list of 100 of its most wanted corruption suspects who had been targeted with an Interpol red notice, many living in the United States, Canada and Australia. Yang was ranked number one on that list.

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China has pursued an overseas search for allegedly corrupt officials and business executives who have fled abroad with their assets, part of President Xi Jinping’s war on deep-seated graft.

It has been pushing for extradition treaties but Western countries have been reluctant to help, not wanting to send people back to a country where rights groups say mistreatment of suspects is a concern.

Yang, accused of stealing US$39 million while deputy mayor of Wenzhou, told Reuters last year she was innocent and called the most-wanted list a political document targeting enemies of the current regime rather than a roster of criminals.