The American wife of a Chinese fugitive has been kidnapped and taken to a secret site commonly known as a "black jail" in order to lure her husband back to China to face criminal charges in a $1.4 billion fraud case, according to WRAL.
Liu Changming, 53, the father, is among China’s most-wanted fugitives, accused of helping to carry out one of the country’s biggest bank frauds, in which $1.4 billion in illegal loans was issued to property developers. He fled the country in 2007.
Sandra Han was detained during a trip to a tropical Chinese island after she and her two children - Victor and Cynthia Liu, traveled on US passports to visit an ailing grandfather. Like their mother, Victor and Cynthia are US citizens. Unlike their mother, however, they were simply placed on travel restriction and not able to leave the country despite saying they are not under investigation or being charged with a crime.
By holding the family hostage, they said, police are trying to force the siblings’ father to return to China to face criminal charges. The father, Liu Changming, a former executive at a state-owned bank, is accused of being a central player in a $1.4 billion fraud case.
The children say their father severed ties with the family in 2012, but Chinese authorities have still held them for months under a practice known as an exit ban — a growing tactic that has become the latest flash point in the increasingly rancorous relationship between the United States and China. -WRAL
Senior US diplomats have denounced the so-called "exit bans" as a violation of rights, while the State Department issued a travel warning in January - saying that the practice posed risks to foreigners traveling to China. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly mentioned the Liu family to a top Chinese foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, at a Washington meeting according to WRAL.
The siblings have pleaded their case to U.S. officials, including John Bolton, the national security adviser. “The investigative officers have made abundantly clear that neither my brother nor I am under any form of investigation,” Cynthia Liu, 27, wrote to Bolton in an August letter obtained by The New York Times. “We are being held here as a crude form of human collateral to induce someone with whom I have no contact to return to China for reasons with which I am entirely unfamiliar.” -WRAL
State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said on Friday that the United States would continue to express concern over exit bans "until we see a transparent and fair process," though nothing about Sandra Han being held at a black site.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, has defended their actions - saying "The people you mentioned all own legal and valid identity documents as Chinese citizens. Because they are suspected of economic crimes, they are restricted from exiting the country by the Chinese police in accordance with the law."
The law in China states that citizenship is automatically lost when someone gains citizenship abroad - while someone like Victor Liu, who was born with US citizenship is not a Chinese citizen, regardless of his parents' citizenship status. All three family members entered China on US passports, while the State Department is providing them with citizen services. Guangzhou police have reportedly taken Han, 51, to meet with a US consular officer.
Massachusetts Democrats Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey and Rep Joseph Kennedy III have all urged the US governmnt to act, as the mother is from their state. "Our office is aware of Victor’s, Cynthia’s and Sandra’s situations and is deeply concerned," Markey’s office said in a statement. "We are working to secure their safe return and continue to be in touch with U.S. officials to ensure a positive outcome."
The Liu children, who have attempted to leave China three times since June, are a long way from their upscale lives in America. Both attended the elite Groton boarding school in Massachusetts. Cynthia Lieu graduated from Stanford and Harvard Business School, while the family has a $2.3 million house in a Boston suburb. Their mother controls real estate holdings worth at least $10 million - including two Manhattan luxury apartments.
They are now living in fear and limiting electronic communications out of surveillance concerns.
"Out of concern for the security of these young Americans, we will refrain from public comment as we continue our efforts to constructively and directly engage the Chinese government to allow them to return home," said David Pressman, a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner who is representing the family.
Meanwhile, the president of Georgetown met with the children this month in Beijing, and Harvard has written to the Chinese ambassador in Washington. So far, China hasn't budged - and they are more serious than ever in their efforts to crack down on corruption.
In 2014, China announced the start of a global campaign to hunt down fugitive former officials.
Many of the former officials live overseas in luxury, with new names and citizenship. China has sent secret agents to the United States to try to retrieve some. China has also asked the United States to send back former officials, but the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.
U.S. officials have been reluctant to cooperate because of China’s human rights abuses and lack of rule of law, though there have been exceptions — including the repatriation of a former vice mayor accused of stealing $39 million. -WRAL
In 2007, Chinese auditors discovered irregularities that would become the country's largest case of bank fraud. That December, Liu Changming fled China according to state media. As the top official at the Guangzhou branch of the Bank of Communications, he was right in the middle of the scam. In 2008, he was charged with issuing illegal loans of around $1.4 billion USD, including one to a company he secretly controlled, according to financial newsmagazine Caixin. Liu's co-conspirators were convicted, but only half the money was recovered.
In 2015, China put Liu on its “Skynet” list of 100 most-wanted fugitives. Interpol issued a “red notice” for his arrest. His whereabouts are unknown.
The Financial Times reported in 2009 that after escaping China, Liu took part in shareholder meetings in London for Canton Property Investment Ltd., a company whose Chinese subsidiaries received the illegal loans. The company had gone public in London in August 2007 and raised $50 million, but was delisted the next year.
Public records show that a person named Changming Liu is linked to a home in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The address matches the one Cynthia Liu lists on her Harvard alumni page. The home is owned by Sandra Han, the mother. Zillow, the real estate website, estimates its value at $2.3 million.
A company controlled by Han bought the home in 2009. Several real estate companies, trusts and limited liability corporations are registered to that address, and they in turn own rental properties in Massachusetts and luxury apartments in New York. -WRAL
During Liu's ascent within Chinese banking bureaucracy, Liu became a "naked official," someone who settles his family abroad - out of the grasp of Chinese authorities. The family in this case moved to California in 1998 - living in an Alhambra condominium. In June 1999, iu and his wife purchased a three-bedroom home in the nearby town of Arcadia, where their son Victor would be born that July.
And after two decades of establishing themselves in the relative safety of Southern California, all it took was one trip to China for their careful planning to go awry.