By Tim Reid
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The United States may deport to China the ex-wife of a fugitive Chinese official indicted on money laundering and immigration fraud charges, a U.S. prosecutor said on Wednesday.
The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday indicted Jianjun Qiao, the former director of a government grain storage facility in central China, and his ex-wife, Shilan Zhao, accusing them of funneling stolen money into the United States and fraudulently obtaining U.S. visas.
Zhao was arrested in Washington state and held without bail while Qiao, her former husband, remains at large.
Ronald Cheng, an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, said one option was for Zhao to be deported back to China for violating immigrations law by falsely claiming to be married to Qiao and lying about the source of their money to obtain a U.S. visa.
U.S. officials said they do not know Qiao's whereabouts. Zhao could face deportation if convicted of the immigration charges to get around the lack of an extradition treaty, the prosecutor said. If caught, Qiao may also face deportation.
"It is certainly a possible consequence that she could be removed back to China," Cheng said in an interview.
Kirk Davis, Zhao's attorney, said: "We look forward to our side of the case coming forward as events progress." Zhao's first court appearance is on Friday.
The indictment, unsealed in Los Angeles, states the couple bought a home in the Seattle suburb of Newcastle with approximately $500,000 of laundered money gleaned from fraudulent transactions related to the huge grain storehouse in Henan Province, China, where Qiao served as director from 1998 to 2011.
There is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and China, but officials are discussing other methods to send Chinese fugitives back to China from the United States if they are apprehended.
U.S. law enforcement agents traveled to China to interview witnesses and gather intelligence before indicting the couple, in a case demonstrating growing cooperation between the U.S. and China over the hunting down of corrupt Chinese fugitives in America.
(Reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)