Fugitive Hiding on Tiny Caribbean Island Willing to Return to Face US$100 Million Fraud Accusations
One of China’s most wanted fugitives who is holed up on a tiny Caribbean island says he is willing to return to the mainland to face his accusers – but only as a “free man”.
Accused of financial crimes involving more than US$100 million, businessman Ren Biao – one of the original 100 most wanted under Beijing’s international manhunt of fugitives dubbed Operation Skynet – made his plea from St Kitts and Nevis.
Ren, 43, is able to live in the Caribbean hideaway with his wife and 16-year-old son after securing a passport through its controversial Citizenship by Investment Programme in 2013.
In May 2014, he was understood to have been made the subject of an Interpol red notice following a request from Beijing, and in April this year he was on an updated list of 22 top fugitives whose personal details – including residential addresses – China released to global media.
Ren said his father, aged in his 70s, had been “detained” by mainland authorities. While this could not be independently confirmed, such a move is known to be a tactic to “persuade” fugitives to return. St Kitts and Nevis is among the countries with which Beijing has no extradition or mutual legal assistance agreement.
Beijing accused Ren of fleeing China after he abused his position as head of 20 companies to amass more than US$100 million through fraudulently secured bank loans and bogus business deals. He is also accused of milking millions more out of unsuspecting family members and friends.
Beijing has lambasted St Kitts and Nevis, saying that by refusing to act on the Interpol notice and its own repeated requests, the country “risked gaining the reputation of being a haven for international fugitives”.
St Kitts and Nevis is a member of Interpol, but is under no legal obligation to comply with either the Interpol notice or China’s demands. In a further complication, the 269 sq km nation comprising two islands and a population of just more than 50,000 is one of the few places in the world to have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Speaking from St Kitts and Nevis, Ren’s lawyer, Chesley Hamilton, said his client “absolutely” refuted the scope and financial dimensions of the accusations and wanted to return to China with the protection, however limited, of his St Kitts and Nevis passport. He said Ren admitted he was involved in “some” business deals that might have left some people out of pocket, but that he was not guilty as charged.
“He does not want to be marched off a plane in handcuffs,” Hamilton said of his client.
The lawyer added that Ren had returned his Kittian passport because it was missing information about his place of birth.
“He is now awaiting his new passport after making an application on behalf of himself and his wife. He is as entitled to a passport as any citizen and entitled to the privileges and protection it affords overseas.”
The Chinese embassy in nearby Antigua and Barbuda was understood to have been in touch with Ren over his possible return.
Hamilton said he was trying to verify whether a new Interpol red notice for his client was issued on June 19.
A red notice is a request to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition. It is issued by Interpol at the request of a member country or an international tribunal based on a valid national arrest warrant. It is not an international arrest warrant.
An Interpol spokesman in Lyon, France, would neither confirm nor deny whether Ren was now or had ever been the subject of a red notice.
Both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security did not respond to the Post’s inquiries.
University of Hong Kong professor Fu Hualing, a criminal justice expert, said Ren’s suggestion that he return to China as a free man could indicate “the opening gambit in a negotiating process”.
“More generally, given the lack of formal extradition treaties and/or mutual legal assistance agreements Beijing has with other countries, it seems to be developing a much more informal case-by-case approach to securing the return of fugitives.”