China has extradited from Bulgaria a former official accused of taking bribes, the first such return from a European Union country, the country's top graft-buster said.

 A former official in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Yao Jinqi, 62, was on Friday returned to China where he could face the death penalty. 

"The law enforcement agencies of China and Bulgaria worked closely together and Yao Jinqi, a suspect who fled to Bulgaria, was extradited," the National Supervision Commission said in a statement.

 "It is also the first time that we have successfully extradited a bureaucrat suspected of work-related crimes from an EU member state." 

 During a court hearing in Sofia on Monday, Yao had asked to be extradited, his lawyer Yanko Alexiev told Bulgarian public broadcaster BNT. Since Yao could face the death penalty, the court could have rejected China's extradition request, Alexiev said. 

"However, given the firm position expressed by my client of an immediate extradition to China, I do not see how the Bulgarian court could have refused," he added.

 China's official Xinhua news agency said Yao had fled the country in 2005 when he was accused of graft, living in central and South America and the Philippines before settling in Bulgaria where he was last month arrested after being put on an Interpol Red Notice. "

There is no true freedom fleeing overseas, finally I still needed to come back to explain myself and accept the consequences," he told Xinhua.

 As part of Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive, Beijing has sought the return of overseas fugitives accused of corruption or economic crimes. 

But it has seen limited success with many western governments including the United States and Canada unwilling to cooperate because of what they say a lack of transparency and due process in China's legal system. 

This is the first extradition since the NSC, a new super anti-graft agency, was set up in March. 

The commission works alongside the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), which has punished more than one million officials since 2012.

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