The Chinese embassy in Cyprus has responded to reports in local media that accused Beijing of using scare tactics on the island to get a suspect extradited, with an official statement pointing to fake news and offering a different side to the story.
Last Sunday Cypriot network Sigmalive published an article titled “WP: China was blackmailing wife of detained man in Cyprus to secure his extradition,” which was based on a story published on April 29 by the Washington Post titled “China’s aggressive efforts to bring back fugitives grow more brazen.”
The WP author alleged that Beijing was harassing Chinese national Liu Lingshuang who lives in Cyprus to push her to persuade her male partner, Ma Chao, to stop fighting his extradition to China.
'Fugitive Ma Chao and his lawyer ignored documented facts and launched an attack on China’s political and judicial system in the courtroom in an attempt to escape extradition'
Sigmalive went on to say that WP listed a number of incidents involving Lingshuang, such as embassy officials refusing to issue passports and a minibus carrying eight men in suits approaching her in a courthouse parking lot last October and warning her that relatives back home would be arrested if her partner did not stop fighting his extradition.
But the Chinese embassy in Nicosia says this is fake news.
Beijing says in March 2014 the primary suspect’s company Zhuoxin Group had misled and defrauded investors in a Ponzi scheme, accumulating €98 million and ruining hundreds of families in the process.
According to the embassy, Lingshuang is implicated in the case as a suspected member of a criminal gang, along with their relatives who are also thought to have taken part in the scheme.
WP claims that “coercion-by-proxy” is regularly deployed by Chinese law enforcement in extradition cases by way of issuing threats against parents back home.
But claims in the WP and Sigmalive stories regarding human rights violations as well as religious persecutions have been dismissed by Beijing, which warned that Chao’s defense in Cyprus could attempt to use the two publications to defeat extradition in a court of law.
WP says activists have cautioned that western governments may be too eager to work together with Beijing on law enforcement cooperation. The article also alleged the Chinese government has been using “irregular methods” to repatriate those wanted abroad.
Case becomes political amid EU stance
Sigmalive made reference to a number of European Parliament resolutions, saying member states that have law enforcement cooperation agreements with China “ought to terminate them.”
“In all the resolutions China is described as a dictatorship that tramples human rights, torture is a given, and detainees die,” Sigmalive wrote.
Cypriot attorney Andreas Pelekanos, who represents Ma Chao according to Sigmalive, has questioned the logic behind the cooperation agreement.
“It’s a contradiction that the Cyprus Republic has signed a bilateral agreement with China for extraditing wanted suspects at a time when the European Parliament and western countries are recording piles of human rights violations in that country,” Pelekanos said.
China says defense ignoring facts & evidence
But China is pushing back on the argument, accusing the defense of trying to politicize the case and interfere with the judicial independence of Cyprus.
“In general, Ma Chao and his lawyer are trying to create lies and deceive readers to put pressure on public opinion and to interfere and influence the process,” Chinese embassy officials argue.
The statement goes on to say that during the hearing the defense launched attacks on the Chinese system and ignored facts “proven by incontrovertible evidence.”
Arguing that the attempt was made to confuse the public, the statement also includes an example involving the eight men in the parking lot. The embassy says they were part of a team of Chinese experts who flew to Cyprus in October 2021 after being invited by the island’s Justice Ministry to attend the hearing.
“Fugitive Ma Chao and the lawyer ignored documented facts and launched an attack on China’s political and judicial system in the courtroom in an attempt to escape [extradition],” the statement said according to local media.
But the WP story painted a different picture, suggesting states like Cyprus were “being complicit in the international expansion of controversial Chinese policing practices that often ignore human rights safeguards.”
The embassy said Sigmalive was an otherwise “excellent news network but this time it did not comprehend in detail the real facts in the case and did not adhere to the principle of objective and fair news.”