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Oct 11, 2:51 AM EDT

China urges corruption fugitives abroad to return

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BEIJING (AP) -- Chinese authorities are urging officials who have fled abroad to avoid corruption charges to turn themselves in before Dec. 1 in exchange for leniency or face stiffer punishment.

Corruption is rampant in China, and a large number of government officials and executives of state-owned companies have absconded overseas for safer havens of their ill-gained wealth because China lacks extradition treaties.

The Friday notice was jointly issued by the ministries of public security and foreign affairs, the supreme court and the supreme prosecuting office. It says those who should return willingly could get leniency and even get exonerated if they can help recover the financial losses.

Those who fail to turn themselves in by the deadline will face stiffer punishment, the notice says, although it does not offer details.

The government of President Xi Jinping is in the midst of the latest in a series of anti-graft crackdowns dating back two decades. Leaders of the ruling Communist Party have warned repeatedly that the pervasive corruption has eroded public trust in the party rule and threatened its legitimacy, and Xi has vowed to punish both "tigers and flies," regardless of the ranks of the officials suspected of graft.

In July, the Communist Party announced an investigation of a former member of its powerful Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, for possible "serious violations of party discipline" - a term usually used to describe corruption.

While the party is tightening its controls over corruption at home, it also is stepping up efforts to bring back suspects who fled abroad.

"No matter where they have fled and how long ... we must track them down and bring them to justice," Huang Shuxian, a senior party disciplinary inspection official, told the official Xinhua News Agency.

Beijing launched the special operation "Fox Hunt 2014" in July to track down such fugitives. Police say the operation so far has brought back 128 officials suspected of graft, bribery, or other economic crimes from more than 40 countries and regions.

China is actively seeking international cooperation in law enforcement to help extradite those suspected of economic crimes.

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