The United States may deport to China the ex-wife of a fugitive Chinese official indicted on money laundering and immigration fraud charges, a U.S. prosecutor said on Wednesday.
The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday indicted Jianjun Qiao, the former director of a government grain storage facility in central China, and his ex-wife Shilan Zhao, accusing them of funneling stolen money into the United States and fraudulently obtaining U.S. visas.
Zhao was arrested in Washington state and held without bail while Qiao, her former husband, remains at large.
Ronald Cheng, an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, said one option was for Zhao to be deported for violating immigrations law by falsely claiming to be married to Qiao and lying about the source of their money to obtain a U.S. visa.
Zhao could face deportation if convicted of the immigration charges to get around the lack of an extradition treaty between the United States and China, the prosecutor said.
"It is certainly a possible consequence that she could be removed back to China," Cheng said in an interview.
U.S. officials said they do not know Qiao's whereabouts, but if caught, Qiao may also face deportation.
"We look forward to our side of the case coming forward as events progress," said Zhao's attorney, Kirk Davis. Zhao's first court appearance is on Friday.
The indictment, unsealed in Los Angeles, states the couple bought a home in the Seattle suburb of Newcastle with approximately $500,000 of laundered money gleaned from fraudulent transactions related to the huge grain storehouse in Henan Province, China, where Qiao served as director from 1998 to 2011.
U.S. law enforcement agents traveled to China to interview witnesses and gather intelligence before indicting the couple, in a case demonstrating growing cooperation between the U.S. and China over the hunting down of corrupt Chinese fugitives in America.
The Chinese government has launched a campaign, dubbed Operation Fox Hunt, to hunt down officials and businessmen who have absconded, often taking their ill-gotten gains with them, part of President Xi Jinping's battle against deep-seated graft.
Late on Tuesday, the Communist Party's anti-corruption watchdog said that 500 suspects were repatriated to China last year, along with more than 3 billion yuan ($484.32 million).
The watchdog said that in some instances its officials would give evidence to host countries so suspects could be prosecuted there, or to help with their repatriation. ($1 = 6.1943 Chinese yuan)