A former Chinese official and fugitive has been extradited to Los Angeles from Sweden for allegedly laundering millions of dollars of stolen money, the U.S. Department of Justice said on June 1.
Prosecutors held Qiao Jianjun, 56, in federal custody over the weekend for five charges, including international transport of stolen money, immigration fraud, and “engaging in financial transactions in criminally derived property.”
If convicted, Qiao could spend a maximum of 55 years in federal prison.
Qiao, also known as Li Feng, is the former head of a state-owned Chinese grain storehouse, the Zhoukou Municipal Grain Reserve in Henan Province. He was on the run in Sweden for more than five years from U.S. and Chinese prosecutors.
Also called Sinograin, the Beijing-headquartered company manages the country’s grain reserves, according to the company’s official website.
Food security is considered a national security issue by Chinese authorities. State-run food companies fill warehouses with grain purchased from local farmers, and prices are kept low with subsidies from the central government.
The United States first indicted Qiao in 2015 in his absence. Qiao was arrested in Sweden on behalf of U.S. authorities in June 2018.
The 2018 indictment recorded nearly 40 fraudulent transactions that Qiao allegedly initiated to siphon funds through his bank accounts in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore, some of which he used to purchase two properties in Monterey Park, California.
He is also wanted by Chinese authorities on charges of embezzlement.
Qiao first fled China in November 2011, after embezzling a total of $98 million, making him one of the most wanted Chinese corrupt officials, according to allegations in Chinese media reports. China had also sought to extradite Qiao in June 2018, a request that the Swedish supreme court blocked, citing a risk that he could face persecution and mistreatment because of his political affiliation, which would constitute a violation of the European Convention.
Qiao appeared in court on June 1 in Los Angeles.
According to court filings, Qiao and his ex-wife Zhao Shilan are also accused of committing visa fraud. Zhao entered the United States in 2008 and later filed for immigration status.
By pretending to still be Zhao’s spouse, Qiao obtained an EB-5 immigrant investor visa that allows him to stay in the United States for two years before applying for permanent residency. However, the couple divorced years ago, in 2001, according to U.S. prosecutors.
Zhao also forged documents to show purported interest in investing in two Chinese flour companies and lied about Qiao’s source of investment for the visa application.
Zhao pleaded guilty to the charges in 2017.
The United States is seeking to confiscate Qiao’s property in Newcastle, Washington, and may seize other substitute assets from the defendant up to the property’s value if the real property cannot be located or has substantially declined in value.
Zhao also owns a condo in the Flushing neighborhood of New York City, according to a 2017 Los Angeles Times report.
Corrupt Chinese Officials
The Chinese regime has sought to crack down on fugitive grafting officials since 2015 amid an anti-corruption campaign whereby many of current leader Xi Jinping’s political rivals were ousted. The initiative to catch officials on the run was dubbed “Operation Skynet.”
That year, Chinese anti-corruption investigators submitted to U.S. authorities a “priority list” of 150 Chinese officials that they would like to apprehend, according to a report by China Daily, the English-language mouthpiece for the Chinese regime.