BEIJING/SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia and China agreed on Tuesday to share intelligence about potential financial crime as part of a crackdown on cross-border money laundering and terrorism financing, as Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan visits Beijing.
Keenan told reporters during his visit that he had also raised concerns with Chinese officials over four Australian citizens detained for "gambling crimes" in connection with Crown Resorts but said he did not discuss specifics of the charges.
The intelligence sharing agreement between Australian financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC and its Chinese counterpart CAMLMAC would allow both countries to target and disrupt organized criminal networks.
"The more granularity we can get on the intelligence and the more information that we can share together, the more likely we're able to find the needle in the haystack essentially, which is the bad financial transaction," Keenan said.
China has been trying to get increased international cooperation to hunt down suspected corrupt officials who have fled overseas since President Xi Jinping began a campaign against deeply-rooted graft more than three years ago.
The intelligence sharing agreement will boost China's pursuit of corrupt officials and business executives and their assets, a chase dubbed "Operation Foxhunt."
"We are determined that Australia is not a haven for corrupt money," Keenan said, adding that China was very satisfied with the level of cooperation Australia has provided.
Some Western countries have been reluctant to help, or sign extradition treaties, not wanting to send people back to a country where rights groups say mistreatment of criminal suspects remains a problem, and also complaining China is unwilling to provide proof of their crimes.
Keenan described China's detention of 18 Crown employees, including three Australian nationals, for "gambling crimes" as
"essentially a consular matter" for Australia.
Consular officers have been able to visit the Australian nationals, who were detained on Oct. 17, and Keenan said his government was following the case closely.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Australian media earlier this week a fourth Australian not employed by Crown had been detained in China in connection with the case. Keenan declined to elaborate on that development.
(Reporting By Jake Spring in BEIJING and Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)