A Chinese-born businessman has agreed to pay New Zealand authorities US$31 million to settle their money laundering investigation into him, although he remains wanted by Beijing over the alleged multi-million-dollar fraud.
William Yan, 45, holds New Zealand citizenship and denies any wrongdoing. Although he was never charged in New Zealand with money-laundering, China still considers him one of the country’s most-wanted suspects.
New Zealand police said Tuesday they have frozen assets worth NZ$42.85 million (US$31.22 million) including luxury cars, property and millions of dollars in bank funds, which will not be released until the money is paid.
The settlement with Yan, his wife Wei You and two associates follows a complex three-year investigation into alleged laundering of money derived from a series of frauds in China between 1999-2001.
“The outcome in this case reflects the effective working relationship between Chinese and New Zealand law enforcement agencies,” said Paul Hampton, manager of the police financial crime unit.
The High Court had approved the settlement, police said.
“They were alleged to have assisted in money laundering and various property associated with them was restrained, including three Auckland properties, a Porsche and Maserati, and over NZ$4.5 million in bank funds.
Beijing claims Yan stole NZ$129 million and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key revealed, following a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this year, that Yan was fifth on China’s most-wanted list.
It is not known if China will seek the extradition of Yan, who arrived in New Zealand in 2001 and was granted citizenship despite having multiple identities and an Interpol alert against his name.
In 2012, he was acquitted on charges relating to false declarations on immigration and citizenship papers.
Key has said an extradition treaty is “possible”. Key has also said up to 60 Chinese corruption suspects were in New Zealand.
The cooperation between the two countries comes as China seeks to drum up Western help in a campaign dubbed “Operation Fox Hunt” to track down corruption suspects who have fled overseas.
China has been pushing for extradition treaties with various countries but many Western nations have been reluctant to help, not wanting to send people to a country where rights groups say mistreatment of suspects is a concern.
According to the New Zealand Herald, Yan has said he made his fortune legitimately as a businessman and the two identities he came to New Zealand with, Yong Ming Yan and Yang Liu, are valid because he was a foster child.
Both his birth parents and foster family registered him with different names and dates of birth, said Yan, who claimed the Chinese government considered him an enemy because he is associated with the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and is pro-democracy.
Reuters, Agence France-Presse