Bruce Sterling: About 4,000 corrupt Chinese officials have fled overseas in the past two decades taking a staggering 50 billion dollars with them, official media reported Thursday.

Much of the money has been moved abroad through offshore financing centers, prompting Premier Wen Jiabao to order finance regulators to develop ways to deal with the problem, the Beijing’s Evening Legal News said.

Experts said corrupt officials and some private firms were using companies registered in offshore finance centers such as the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas to illegally transfer funds.

A joint task force is being set up by the central bank, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, the China Banking Regulatory Commission and the China Securities Regulatory Commission to deal with the issue.

China is beset by corruption nationwide and it is consistently cited as one of the top causes of public discontent with the current political system.

While the central government has vowed to clamp down hard on the practices, a steady stream of graft reports in the official media suggests the problem remains serious.

In the latest attempt to combat the problem, China has set up public bank accounts so that corrupt officials can voluntarily return bribes they have pocketed in return for lighter punishment.

More here.