Chinese police who want to question suspects in Australia will need to obey a new set of formal rules which include having an Australian Federal Police officer present for any interaction.
Chinese police have in the past pursued the country’s nationals who are suspected of “economic crimes” into other jurisdictions, including Australia.
The new rules, negotiated between Australia and China, also mean that interviews must be recorded on video by Australian authorities, with an independent translator.
The Australia Federal Police has also banned the parading of returning fugitives in front of Chinese television cameras – a regular sight in Beijing as planes arrive at the capital’s airport and handcuffed suspects are marched down the stairs for nightly news bulletins.
And no suspect can be forced to return to China.
China has failed to gain an extradition treaty with Australia – which it sought as part of its high-profile Fox Hunt campaign to force the return of corrupt officials who have fled abroad to the US, Canada and Australia.
The AFP and immigration department instead signed a formal agreement on economic crime cooperation with China’s police agency, the Public Security Bureau, in Beijing on Monday.
It provides a checklist for Australian cooperation with Chinese police investigations into economic crimes, making it clear to Chinese police what is required under Australian law.
While the deal is not a replacement for the extradition treaty the Turnbull government was unable to get through federal parliament over human rights concerns, it deals with a similar issue – Chinese investigations into economic crime suspects who have left China and are living in Australia.
Chinese and Australian police have had a rocky relationship in the past.
In a controversial incident in December 2014, Chinese police from Rizhao city arrived in Australia unannounced to persuade a tour bus driver accused of bribery to return to China. The federal government labelled the incident “unacceptable” and protested to the Chinese embassy.
Since then, Chinese police have been required to travel to Australia on visas organised through the AFP, and have complied.
China’s corruption crackdown has no equivalent under Australian law, where investigation assistance can only be provided for economic crime relating to fraud, money laundering or intellectual property crime.
But if the embezzled money is transferred to Australia, it becomes a transnational crime, and the AFP can become involved and the proceeds of crimes act applied.
AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin is in Beijing for an Interpol conference, at which Chinese president Xi Jinping is expected to give the opening address on Tuesday.
On Monday evening, Commisisoner Colvin met with Chinese ministry of public security vice minister Meng Qingfeng, and handed over $215,000 he said “was forfeited in Australia under proceeds of crime legislation, demonstrating that Australia will remain a hostile environment for criminals seeking to hide their illegally-obtained assets”.
The money is a proportion of the sum seized from a Chinese citizen who travelled to Australia after conducting a scam in China.
In a joint investigation, passport irregularities were discovered, and civil proceedings brought against the person in Australia.
A partner in the scam returned to China.
It is understood that the AFP monitors suspects who voluntarily return to China, although no court proceedings involving these returnees have been concluded.
While the Chinese corruption watchdog often publicises a list of “top 100 wanted fugitives”, in Australia they are regarded as suspects only.
Ten Australian names have appeared on the Fox Hunt “most wanted” list, and the Burwood, NSW, address of one man was circulated to Chinese media by China’s feared corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
But Fairfax Media has confirmed these suspects did not flee to Australia, but instead migrated to Australia lawfully, after which time they became the subject of a Chinese accusation.
By Kirsty Needham
Sydney Morning Herald