Chinese fugitive makes ‘voluntary’ return from NZ

A Chinese fugitive who has returned home from New Zealand after 11 years did so "voluntarily" and not as the result of an extradition request, according to Kiwi officials.

Jiang Lei, a former deputy president of China’s Association of Automobile Manufacturers accused of embezzlement, returned to China from New Zealand to surrender according to China's state-run news agency Xinhua.

Jiang was among four Chinese fugitives allegedly living in Auckland on a list of the country's 22 "most wanted" corruption suspects released by the Chinese government in May last year.

Interpol issued an international "red notice" for his arrest in July 2007 following an investigation by Chinese authorities, Xinhua said.

The Xinhua report said Jiang's return came with "the cooperation of the law enforcement agencies of New Zealand", and quoted an announcement from Chinese authorities earlier this year to "take the initiative to surrender and fight for leniency".

Justice Minister Andrew Little said Jiang had not been extradited from New Zealand, with the only Chinese extradition request before the Government - involving South Korean national Kyung Yup Kim - still before the courts.

A police spokesperson said Jiang had "returned to China voluntarily following an agreement between himself, his lawyer and Chinese authorities".

"New Zealand Police [were] not a party to the agreement but were aware of the negotiations," the spokesperson said.

Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, China has made a virtue of pursuing allegedly corrupt officials as part of a wider anti-corruption drive.

However, the country's push has been complicated by its lack of extradition treaties with a number of Western countries, including New Zealand, due to concerns about its treatment of prisoners and use of the death penalty.

The current Extradition Act places a mandatory block on extradition for any offences “of a political character”, while the Justice Minister can veto extradition if there is a “substantial risk” of torture, or if the death penalty may be used.

New Zealand has never extradited anyone to China - although the request for Kim's extradition has led to a long-running and unresolved battle through the courts, with former Justice Minister Amy Adams twice approving his extradition and twice being challenged.

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