Investors probably cringed when they scanned over a headline Tuesday morning about the US requesting the extradition of a Chinese national from Sweden, given that the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada at the behest of American prosecutors last year is still casting a pall over trade talks.
But Washington's decision to request extradition for Qiao Jianjun, the former chief of a government grain storage facility, comes just days after a similar request by Beijing was turned down. Qiao, as it turns out, is one of mainland China's most wanted fugitives, and is suspected of embezzling millions of dollars, according to the SCMP.
The court in Stockholm, where Qiao was arrested last year, was unwilling to extradite him to Beijing for humanitarian reasons. Sweden’s top court "made a preliminary decision not to extradite" Qiao to China on Tuesday last week, according to his lawyer, and he was released the next day, but the court has yet to discuss the case with the government in Stockholm.
American prosecutors first brought money laundering charges against Qiao in 2015 after he moved some of his ill-gotten gains to the US. In the years since, he has become one of China's most wanted corruption suspects. He has been on the run since November 2011. California prosecutors also indicted him on charges of immigration fraud and international transport of stolen funds.
"The indictment also alleges that Qiao engaged in fraudulent grain transactions while serving as the grain storehouse director, and Qiao and [his ex-wife] had money transferred out of China, with approximately $500,000 being used to purchase the Newcastle property [in Washington]," according to a 2015 US court document.
Days after he was released after winning his extradition hearing against Beijing, police issued an order for Qiao’s arrest on Sunday and he was temporarily detained around lunchtime in the Stockholm district of Racksta. He is being held in a prison in the nearby town of Solna. Qiao has been "provisionally arrested" pending a hearing on the extradition request, though no time frame has been given.
A spokeswoman for Sweden’s home affairs minister confirmed on Monday that a district court would make a preliminary evaluation of the US extradition request and decide whether Qiao should remain in detention.
But just because Washington appears to have the upper hand with Sweden doesn't mean Beijing will give up the fight to have Qiao returned to China. Though whether President Trump might seek to use Qiao as a 'bargaining chip' remains to be seen.