How much stealing goes on in China's much convulsed public sector? The Ministry of Commerce tried to answer that question recently. According to its calculations, 4,000 corrupt officials fled China in the last 20 years, absconding with US$600 million, or about US$150,000 each on average.
But there is wide disagreement on the totals. The People's Daily, for example, said more than 500 party, government and state company officials are currently wanted for embezzling up to US$8.4 billion. Divide that amount by 500 and everyone comes out a millionaire and then some.
In the event, the ministry said the fugitives typically set up companies in offshore finance centers, such as the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas, to park their illicit gains. Estimates suggested these front companies number in the tens of thousands. But some crooks retire to more prosaic locales. www.chinacourt.org, the Chinese judiciary's official web site, cites the case of one Henan area ex-party chief, Cheng Sanchang, who set up a company in New Zealand and then exited in 2002 as president of Yugang Corp, taking with him more than RMB 10 million. Maybe the People's Daily figure is more on the mark.
In a not unrelated development, government officials announced the start of a pilot anti-corruption scheme, which requires government officials to report the assets and income sources of their children living abroad.
The program, in fact, has been operating now for several weeks in selected parts of northern China. Officials in Hubei and Shanxi Provinces and Beijing Municipality are required to provide their work units with information on children overseas, including bank account numbers, home addresses and schools attended before and after they depart from China.
Plugging this hole could be tough to do, and officials seemed to concede as much, saying that the measures will only be effective if discipline committees are able to resist political pressure.