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August 24, 2016

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‘Fugitive’ settles case for US$31m

A FORMER drugs company executive who was accused by Chinese authorities of embezzlement and fleeing to New Zealand has settled his case for US$31 million, New Zealand police said yesterday.

It is a deal said to represent an unusual level of cooperation between the two countries.

William Yan settled the case without acknowledging any criminal or civil liability, the police said in a statement.

They had previously seized homes, luxury cars including a Porsche and a Maserati, and stocks from 47-year-old Yan, his wife and two associates, the statement said.

Police said that they would release those items once Yan and the others involved handed over NZ$43 million (US$31 million). Police said the money would then be split between the New Zealand and Chinese governments.

New Zealand authorities refused to answer further questions about the case, including whether China would attempt to extradite Yan.

China’s foreign ministry said Chinese and New Zealand police had worked closely on the case, but it did not say if China would seek Yan’s extradition.

“Going forward, Chinese police will continue to work with New Zealand to advance relevant enforcement cooperation on the Yan case,” the ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

Largest settlement

The settlement is the largest of its kind made in New Zealand, and the first for crimes alleged to have occurred in China.

But critics say it raises questions about why Yan isn’t facing charges and how much New Zealand is acquiescing to China’s demands.

China represents a crucial market for New Zealand’s agricultural exports, which include kiwifruit and dairy products.

One of Yan’s Auckland-based lawyers, Simon Lance, said in an e-mail that his client “does not accept that he is guilty of embezzling money in China.”

Another one of the lawyers, Marc Corlett, said in a statement that the settlement was a “commercial compromise” that would allow Yan to recover his seized assets and “return his focus to his business activities in New Zealand and elsewhere.”

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the nation’s police handle investigations independently and that it was up to them to determine whether it was better to settle a case or pursue charges.

But opposition lawmaker Winston Peters said that the way the case had been handled was demeaning for New Zealand.

As part of an operation it calls Sky Net, China last year issued a list of its 100 most-wanted economic fugitives, who it accuses of absconding overseas with ill-gotten gains.

Under the name Yan Yongming, Yan made the list at No. 5.

The listing went on to say that Yan was wanted by police in the northeast Chinese city of Tonghua, where he last worked as chairman of a pharmaceutical company, the Tonghua Golden Horse Group.

It lists three different passport numbers and three national identification numbers for Yan, who it also listed under the name Liu Yangming.

China said that between 11 and 20 of the alleged economic fugitives had fled to New Zealand, making it the third-most popular destination behind the US and Canada for such people.


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