Page last updated at 12:41 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 13:41 UK

China officials 'defect in Paris'

Person with suitcase (file image)
Chinese officials face stiff penalties for corruption offences

Two Chinese officials have failed to return from trips to France, prompting speculation that they were seeking to evade possible corruption allegations.

Xin Weiming, a Shanghai district chief, left a note for colleagues saying he was visiting friends in Paris.

Zhejiang province official Yang Xianghong said he was staying in France to receive medical treatment.

Hundreds of Chinese officials are said to have fled abroad in recent years to escape allegations of corruption.

The state-run China Daily newspaper said Mr Xin and Mr Yang had travelled to France with a group of officials during China's National Day public holiday.

But Mr Xin's colleagues became suspicious when he did not show up for breakfast, reported Shanghai Daily.

They checked his room and found he had gone, taking his luggage and leaving a note to say he would remain in Paris to see friends.

Shanghai's municipal government was reported to be shocked by his sudden disappearance but a spokesman for Mr Xin's district told China Daily that no one could say for certain he would not return.

Stiff sentences

Meanwhile Mr Yang, from the booming city of Wenzhou in southeastern Zhejiang province, is said to have left the tour group to visit his daughter who lives in France, later saying he would stay behind due to illness.

But his colleagues told Oriental Outlook magazine that Mr Yang had shown no signs of being unwell.

Reports have suggested Mr Yang was questioned by disciplinary investigators shortly before his departure for Paris and Wenzhou's government has despatched a team to try bring him back.

The BBC's China editor, Shirong Chen, says the case is reminiscent of Wenzhou's deputy mayor fleeing to the US in 2003 with millions of US dollars. She has still not returned.

The Chinese Ministry of Public Security said last year that more than 800 people had fled abroad in recent years to escape accusations of embezzling a total of 70bn yuan ($9.7bn; 6bn). At least 500 of them are reported still to be at large.

Corrupt officials who have not fled overseas receive stiff sentences, say correspondents.

The former vice mayor of Suzhou has been sentenced to death for taking millions of US dollars in bribes, and the former deputy mayor of Beijing has received a suspended death penalty.

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