A former government official in east China's Jiangxi Province was tried in absentia on Friday in a landmark case to help retrieve smuggled illegal earnings overseas and deter official corruption.
The trial is the first following a revised Criminal Procedure Law went into effect last year, allowing trial in absentia of corrupt officials who fled the country with ill-gotten gains.
Li Huabo, a former official with the finance department in Poyang county, is accused of escaping to Singapore with 29.5 million yuan (4.8 million U.S. dollars) by the Shangrao municipal intermediate people's court.
Li was accused of embezzling 94 million yuan (15.3 million U.S. dollars) in public funds between 2006 and 2010. He fled to Singapore in January 2011 and got permanent residency there.
In July, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison in Singapore after being found guilty of money laundering and damage to reputation of financial institutions.
Police authorities in Singapore found that Li and his wife owned 5.45 million Singapore dollars (26.8 million yuan or 4.4 million U.S. dollars) of assets in the city state.
Once Chinese courts find him guilty of smuggling, judicial authorities will seek international assistance to get the verdict recognized by the relevant countries, said Huang Jingping, a professor of law at the Renmin University of China.
"Before we did not allow trial in absentia so when fleeing corrupt officials were still at large, their illegal overseas assets could not be retrieved," Huang said.
"Now, even when the money and assets are transferred overseas, they can still be retrieved," he said.
"Anti-graft authorities can seek assistance from their overseas counterparts to seize and freeze, then return the assets of corrupt Chinese officials," said an unnamed official of the anti-graft bureau under the Supreme People's Procuratorate.
Laws in the United States, Canada, Australia and Singapore - the favorite destinations for Chinese officials who flee with large amounts of money - all recognize confiscation of illegal earnings in the Chinese rulings.
According to a report from the Supreme People's Procuratorate, they arrested 762 escaped officials and took back 10.1 billion yuan of assets last year.
Xie Youping, a professor of law at Fudan University, said the trial is a landmark as the Chinese government seeks to deter corruption and allow no escaped officials to evade economic punishment.