Feb 21, 2012 07:16 PM

Despite Corruption Overtones, Public Support Persists for 'Naked Officials'


Under government investigation for extortion and kickbacks in 2006, a Fujian provincial official named Zhou Jinhuo decided one day to disappear entirely.

After all, he had a solid escape route: his wife had emigrated to the United States years earlier, giving Zhou the possibility of U.S. permanent residency. Plus, they had already transferred 100 million yuan to their U.S. bank account.

In the last few years, Zhou's story and other similar cases have ignited public debate about China's so-called "naked officials": public servants who have a way out of the country through relatives living abroad, should they ever need to flee corruption charges or transfer illegal funds.

In an effort to discourage the practice, Guangdong Province officials on January 4 announced that officials whose spouses and children have emigrated are no longer allowed to take on high-level posts in the government, such as party secretary.

But while the Chinese government has expressed its desire to prevent "naked officials" from gaming the system, many members of the public say they support the idea of officials sending their families abroad, a government-based think-tank recently reported.

According to the 2012 Rule of Law Blue Book issued by the Institute of Law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 38.9 percent of public officials said they think government servants' spouses are entitled to have foreign citizenship or permanent residency. China's general population polled slightly lower, at 34.2 percent.

50 percent of high-level officials above the prefecture level said their children should have the right to immigrate abroad.

The Blue Book, an annual collection of articles by scholars and judges discussing the major policy and legislation debates from the past year, identified "naked officials" as a weak point in China's ongoing efforts to combat corruption.

Last year, China's central bank reported that up to 18,000 corrupt officials and employees of state-owned enterprises have left China since the mid-1990s, taking an estimated 800 billion yuan with them. According to 2005 Ministry of Commerce estimates, 4,000 corrupt officials fled China between 1978 and 2003 with $50 billion.

In one case alone, a former head of a Bank of China branch in Heilonjiang named Gao Shan siphoned off 1 billion yuan from customers' accounts and transferred 600 million of the sum abroad. Then, he joined his wife and daughter in Canada in 2005, acquiring permanent residency there three years later, China Business News reported

According to Party School of the CPC Central Committee Professor Lin Zhe, each of China's provinces hosts an estimated 40,000 "naked officials," with 1.8 million in total between 1995 and 2005.

"Asset transfers usually coincide with emigration, and the crime always ends with officials fleeing abroad," Tsinghua University Anti-Corruption and Governance Research Center Director Ren Jianming told the state-sponsored magazine Oriental Outlook. "Public servants are already 'naked officials' before they immigrate abroad."

In 2010, the Communist Party also issued a new set of guidelines requiring officials to report the whereabouts of their spouses and children.

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