BEIJING, Sept 29 (AFP): Corruption in China has grown by leaps and bounds during its economic reform period and is threatening the legitimacy of the communist government, a leading global economic organisation said Thursday.
Corruption represented between 3.0 and 5.0 per cent of China's gross domestic product, or between 409 and 683 billion yuan (50-84 billion dollars) in 2004, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a report.
"There were big increases in corruption from 1987-1992 which was linked to the transition process of the economy," Janos Bertok, co-author of the report, told AFP.
"For the rest of the 1990s the level of corruption did not let up ... as China's economy grows the opportunities for corruption also grow."
The government was keenly aware of the problem to its legitimacy and was trying not to only punish corrupt officials but also build a system that prevents graft, he said.
From 1993 to 1997 China investigated 387,352 cases of corruption involving 54,805 officials, the report said, citing Chinese statistics.
Its publication came during an ongoing international symposium on the "Anti-Corruption Initiative for Asia and the Pacific," co-sponsored by the Asian Development Bank, the OECD and the Chinese government.
China was eager to host the meeting to establish better cooperation with other nations as it seeks to repatriate corrupt officials who have fled aboard with vast sums, Frederic Wehrle, coordinator of the OECD anti-corruption initiative and co-author of the report, told AFP.
"China wants to improve international cooperation so that they can bring some of these corrupt officials back and recover the lost assets," Wehrle said.
China has extradition treaties with 19 countries, but not with Canada and the United States where many officials have fled, he said.
In the first half of 2003 alone more than 8,300 officials fled the country and another 6,500 disappeared within China to escape prosecution for corruption and embezzlement, the report said.
"Roughly two-thirds of the fugitives were senior executives of state-owned enterprises (and) between 8.75 billion dollars and 50 billion dollars were supposedly brought out of the country in recent years," it said.
Low conviction rates compared to the number of initiated investigations into corruption suggested the current framework for law enforcement was inadequate in effectively addressing corruption and bribery offences, the report said.
Only 10 to 20 per cent of corruption cases were solved, and only 6.6 per cent of Communist Party officials who were disciplined for corruption received any criminal punishment, it said, citing Chinese academics.
According to statistics published by the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the country's top prosecutorial body, more than 42,000 cases of corruption involving officials were investigated in 2004, down from 64,000 cases in 1995, it said.
"Despite significant efforts from the CPC (Communist Party) and government leaders, corruption remains a serious problem for both citizens and businesses, particularly for foreign direct investment," the paper concludes.