Court Sentences “Most Wanted Fugitive” to Life

Chinese state media reported Friday that a Xiamen court convicted and sentenced smuggling kingpin Lai Changxin to life in prison, likely putting to rest a legal battle that began more than a decade ago when Lai escaped prosecution by fleeing with his family to Canada. From Reuters:

“The Chinese government’s determination to attack crime and root out corruption is unwavering, the report said.

Lai can still appeal against the conviction and sentence.

The court concluded that, from 1991, Lai “established companies, strongholds and networks in Hong Kong and Xiamen to form a smuggling clique” that cheated customs inspectors to import cigarettes, cars, oil products, industrial materials and textiles worth a total of some 27.4 billion yuan ($4.3 billion).

Lai bribed 64 officials through gifts of cash, real estate and vehicles worth some 39.1 million yuan, and he evaded taxes totaling 14.0 billion yuan.

Lai’s crimes occurred in the special economic zone of Xiamen in Fujian province in the mid-1990s when Jia, now the Communist Party’s fourth most senior leader, was the province’s party boss.

In The Globe and Mail, Mark MacKinnon traces Lai’s opportunistic rise to the top of China’s black market and writes that today’s ruling marks the end of China’s Great Gatsby:

In a country where few profess to know the details of the Tiananmen Square massacre, nearly everyone knows Mr. Lai’s name. He’s the ultimate antihero, the poor kid from Fujian province who came to symbolize the excesses and corruption that have spoiled China’s economic rise. Tell someone here that you’re Canadian, and you open yourself to questions about why Canada would shelter a man like Mr. Lai for the dozen years he was in Vancouver fighting extradition before he was finally sent back to China 10 months ago.

The story of Lai Changxing resonates here because it is interwoven with that of modern China. He made it rich through his own enterprise, only to become mired in the payoffs and profiteering that so many Chinese detest. He was a rogue and a bootlegger, a Chinese Jay Gatsby, who is believed to have rubbed shoulders with some of the rising stars of Communist Party, which many believe helps explain the passion with which Beijing fought to have him extradited and jailed back on Chinese soil. (The party boss in Fujian at the height of Mr. Lai’s influence was Jia Qinglin, now a member of the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo. The provincial governor was Xi Jinping, the man tipped to be China’s next president.)

See also recent CDT coverage of Lai’s trial and legacy as “China’s Most Wanted Fugitive.”

May 18, 2012 1:25 PM
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Categories: China & the World, Law