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06 Jun 2022

China uses INTERPOL to go after extraditee’s wife

Following the reporting on an ongoing case of Chinese extradition in Cyprus by Safeguard Defenders and several media, this bizarre statement from the Chinese Embassy in Cyprus illustrates exactly why extraditions to China must be off the table unless Beijing reforms its legal system to adhere to basic international standards. As it is right now, allowing extraditions forces European countries to undermine its own commitment to the rule of law.

Safeguard Defenders, the Washington Post, and local Cypriot media Sigmalive had already revealed how Mr Ma Chao, the target in Cyprus, was facing a barrage of attempts by Chinese police to surrender himself and return ‘voluntarily’, rather than resist the extradition request China made to Cyprus. Those actions have been covered in detail in Safeguard Defenders' exposé of the case, and by the Washington Post.

Following the exposure of these actions, the Chinese State has, in a bizarre twist, doubled down on the very same behaviour, now admitting it is, years after the fact, going after his wife and mother of his children, including via INTERPOL, and stated that Mr Ma is indeed guilty (despite no trial having taken place and dooming his ability to receive a fair trial), and started attacking his legal defence.


A mixed ‘involuntary return’ method

As an example of China’s operations overseas to force targets back to China, this case demonstrates a combination of ‘threats to family member (type 1)’ and ‘targeting victim in foreign country (type 2)’ of China’s involuntary return operations, an integral part of its larger SkyNet operation, as revealed in Safeguard Defenders’ extensive report, Involuntary Returns - China’s covert operation to force ‘fugitives’ overseas back home. China, in its response to the report, has admitted to this practice via both State-run newspaper the Global Times and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The use of INTERPOL now against his wife largely illustrate China’s willingness to misuse INTERPOL, knowing perhaps that INTERPOL is unlikely to take any action, despite the repeat violation of its charter by China, as exposed in a prior report, “No Room To Run”.


Co-victim in Cyprus: Ma’s wife

Earlier, a piece of unconfirmed information indicated that Liu Lingshuang, Ma’s wife, also in Cyprus, had – like many family members in China – been issued an arrest warrant. Now the Chinese embassy confirms that ‘as for the so-called wife Liu Lingshuang involved in the case, she is also a member of Ma Chao's criminal gang’. It added that her arrest was approved by the Prosecutor on December 14, 2021, and that an INTERPOL Red Notice has been issued on her as of February 28, 2022. This would also have happened a mere three days after three foreign China experts appeared at the trial for the defence.

The embassy’s statement further accuses Liu not only of being related to the alleged crimes, but of being one of the masterminds all along, despite the fact that she had left China years ago. The official embassy response states that ‘the truth is that, according to the Chinese police investigation, Ma Chao and Liu Lingshuang were the main members of the criminal gang and their arrested relatives held positions in the Ma Chao gang and were directly involved in the case’.

Not coincidentally, only after Ma refused to give in to the threat are these accusations against Liu being formulated. The exact same thing goes for the arrest of three family members of theirs back in China earlier this year - and possibly a fourth, as Ma’s mother went missing when his father was detained. And these are taking place long after the original arrest warrant was issued against Ma in 2020 (for alleged criminal activities between 2014 and 2019).


Co-victim in Cyprus: Ma’s child

Ma’s child is another victim of the involuntary return operation in this case. Since Mr Ma is presumed guilty by China (see below), the government is seemingly using their child as leverage by refusing to renew the child’s passport. The embassy unsuccessfully refutes the allegation by claiming that ‘as a Chinese citizen, Liu's son has the legal right to renew his passport and his request was accepted by the Embassy and is now being processed and has not been "rejected" as the other party claims’. They stress that ‘Ma Chao's son's passport renewal claim is also completely false.’

However, it has now been over a year since the request for his passport renewal was filed. The ‘delay’ is apparently blamed on bad intra-departmental communication within the Chinese government, as in an indicative statement they highlight how ‘the Embassy was trying to contact the relevant Chinese Political Affairs Bureau to clarify how to handle the case’. It rings rather hollow.


Tit for tat

On 28 January 2022, three-month later, Liu’s sister and her husband were detained by the same police force, and charged with the same crime. A month later, on 23 to 25 of February, three foreign experts on Chinese law appeared in court for the defence, and at the conclusion of that, on February 25, Mr Ma’s father was detained. At the same time, his mother went missing.

Three days later, on 28 February, an INTERPOL Red Notice was issued on Liu. A few days later still, on 3 March, China announced launch of Sky Net 2022, promising to expand the program.


Presumed guilty ‘in the eye of the State’

While the issue of whether there are fair trials in China is under discussion in the Cypriot court, the Chinese embassy went out of its way to make clear that, in the eyes of China, Mr Ma has already been found guilty. ‘The case is extremely glaring in nature and has far-reaching implications, hurting hundreds of Chinese families and causing outrage in Chinese society. The conduct of the fugitive Ma Chao violated the provisions of Article 192 of the Criminal Code of the People's Republic of China’, their statement reads.

To make matters worse, the embassy then proceeds to repeatedly attack both Mr Ma for the temerity of trying to defend himself in an independent judicial process, and his lawyer Mr Andros Pelecanos, reiterating once again that for as far as the Chinese State is concerned, despite the absence of any trial, Mr Ma is already guilty.

[During the extradition hearing], ‘they ignored the facts of their crimes, proven by incontrovertible evidence, and constantly used some so-called excuses - the political system, human rights, religion and other irrelevant to the case issues, in order to confuse the public’, the embassy reacted.

It is striking, though unsurprising, that the embassy would attack his legal representative for bringing up the issue of China’s political- and judicial system. “Ma Chao and his lawyer [have] tried to politicize the case, aiming to intervene in the judicial independence of Cyprus’’.

The seeming political nature of the INTERPOL Red Notice against Ma’s wife must be challenged, as using INTERPOL would in that case clearly violate INTERPOL charter articles 2 and 3. Last time INTERPOL investigated such a challenge, regarding Idris Hasan, in detention in Morocco and facing possible extradition to China, it found China in violation of INTERPOL rules and terminated the Red Notice. However, it was by then too late, as Idris had already been detained under the Red Notice.

We call on INTERPOL to investigate the Red Notice issued against Mrs Liu, suspending its validity until such an investigation is complete.


Check out Safeguard Defenders factsheet on Extraditions and China (PDF), its full report on China's use of Extraditions, its ground-breaking report on Involuntary Returns, or report on China's growing (mis)use of INTERPOL.