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Chinese Economic Fugitive Seeking Asylum in US

FILE - Yang Xiuzhu reads newspaper during meeting in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, China, Dec. 29, 2001.

China’s most wanted economic fugitive, Yang Xiuzhu, received her first deportation hearing Tuesday in U.S. immigration court in New York. Yang’s lawyer indirectly confirmed she is seeking asylum, while her court documents also indicated her case has turned from a deportation case into an asylum case.

The 30-minute hearing was conducted behind closed doors in response to Yang’s privacy waiver request, but Yang could be seen sitting in the courtroom in an orange prison jumpsuit next to her lawyer, Vlad Kuzming.

Yang entered the courtroom for detained illegal immigrants on Varick Street in downtown Manhattan. When Kuzming arrived, he was asked by VOA if Yang was seeking “relief from removal” to China, or asylum from deportation. He answered, “I think so.”

Yang was taken back after the hearing to the correctional facility in Hudson County, New Jersey, where she has been held since last year.

According to court records, Judge Thomas Mulligan heard 10 cases Tuesday, including Yang’s case, which was noted with signs for “Expedite” and “Asylum Only.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a Department of Homeland Security agency, last month accused Yang of “violating the terms of the Visa Waiver Program,” and asked the immigration court to deport her to China.

Yang is wanted for alleged embezzlement of more than $40 million while she was the former deputy mayor and construction bureau official of Wenzhou City in Zhejiang province.

Chinese state media reported that Chinese authorities got hold of and provided U.S. customs officials with details of Yang’s travel plans last year. Yang was detained last June as she was entering the U.S. from Canada using a fake Dutch passport. However, U.S. authorities have not released the exact circumstances of her detention.

China and the U.S. do not have a formal extradition treaty, but The Wall Street Journal saw Yang’s case as “the latest sign of cooperation between law enforcement authorities in the two countries.”

The Chinese government placed Yang at the top of a list of 100 economic fugitives in April as part of a recent anti-corruption campaign by President Xi Jinping's administration. Over a third of the people on the list were said to be suspected of being in or transiting through the U.S.