Last Thursday Canadian courts finally agreed to extradite Lai Changxing, known as China’s “most wanted fugitive” on the assurance that he would not be tortured or executed by the Chinese government. From Reuters:
Lai’s deportation would remove a thorn that has long plagued Sino-Canadian relations. Beijing has sought the deportation of Lai, accusing him of running a multibillion-dollar smuggling operation in the southeastern city of Xiamen in the 1990s in one of China’s biggest political scandals in decades.
Lai fled to Canada with his family in 1999 and claimed refugee status, saying the allegations against him were politically motivated.
“The Chinese government’s stance on Lai Changxing returning to China to stand trial is clear. We welcome the Canadian court’s decision,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The verdict was issued just after the visit of Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird, to China, where he said “both the Canadian people and the Chinese people don’t have a lot of time for white collar fraudsters”.
China promised Canada in a diplomatic note that Lai would not be tortured or executed and that Canadian officials would have access to him.
The Chinese government alleges that Lai was the mastermind behind the country’s “largest smuggling ring ever” and routinely bought off CCP officials. From the Telegraph:
According to the Chinese government, Lai was involved in the “biggest smuggling ring ever”. When the ring was broken up in the late 1990s, a haul of $6.8 billion (£4.2 billion) of goods was discovered and 14 people were given the death penalty, with eight of them executed and four of them committing suicide.
The smuggling ring in the seaside city of Xiamen saw whole tankers full of crude oil slipped into the country, as well as fleets of luxury cars, while Lai allegedly bought off Communist party members, the police, customs officers and the banks with cash, school fees for their children and houses. It was a stark illustration of the corruption that continues to rot the party.
The headquarters of Lai’s Yuanhua group was a seven-story building known as the Red Mansion, after a Chinese literary classic, and which the Chinese state media described as a decadent palace, full of chandeliers, lavish furniture, and dozens of beautiful young women who were skilled in “singing, dancing and massage”.
An initial attempt to break up Lai’s ring was rebuffed, with investigators’ phones being tapped and all leads coming to a dead end.
In the end, Beijing had to send around 1,000 officers to take over Lai’s headquarters.
Around 200 Communist party officials were punished, and another 150 faced criminal charges. But Lai, the alleged mastermind, slipped free, running to Canada after being tipped off about his imminent arrest. He left behind an 88-floor skyscraper he was building, and his professional football team, the Xiamen Red Lions.
Lai is being sent back because he has repeatedly been denied refugee status in Canada. Some pundits also believe that this is an attempt by the current Canadian government to improve diplomatic and business relations with China . From the Economist:
Giving China the benefit of the doubt on human rights is a relative novelty for Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. Shortly after he won office in 2006, Mr Harper pledged that Canada “would not sell out” in talking about human rights with China. His first foreign minister accused China of industrial espionage. When Mr Harper visited China in 2009, his hosts chided him for waiting almost four years before coming.
That visit marked the start of a courtship. China is a friend and “important ally”, Mr Baird said when he visited the country this month. Though he stressed that he could not interfere in Mr Lai’s case, he added that “the Canadian people and the Chinese people don’t have a lot of time for white-collar fraudsters.”
This change of tune owes much to Canada’s search for new export markets to compensate for the stagnation of its main economic partner, the United States. China’s share of Canadian exports has almost doubled in the past five years (though it still amounts to only 3.3% of the total). China has become an important market for Canadian fuels and softwood lumber. Investment by Chinese state companies, once reviled, is now welcomed. This month a Chinese oil company bought OPTI Canada, an ailing tar-sands producer, for C$2.1 billion ($2.2 billion).
Like others, Canada also sees ties with China as a potential source of leverage with the United States. “There is a real sense in Canada now that the Americans take us for granted and that Canada has to strengthen relations with China in order to get more respect in the US,” says David Emerson, a former foreign minister who is now a consultant. Delays by the American State Department in granting approval for a cross-border pipeline to carry crude from the tar sands to the Gulf Coast have prompted calls for a pipeline from Alberta to the west coast, for shipment to China.
U.S. Department of Commerce General Counsel Cameron Kerry, in Beijing on a five-day visit focused on anti-corruption and commercial rule of law issues, said that “there’s good cooperation” between Chinese and U.S. prosecutors “in finding ways to repatriate corrupt officials or ill-gotten assets”.
“Our prosecutors on both sides yesterday discussed a number of specific cases and they look forward to increasing cooperation on those cases,” Kerry told reporters at a briefing.
Some of these cases include U.S. investigations into alleged bribes paid to Chinese officials by companies from the United States or registered in the United States, under the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, he added.
He declined to be more specific and said he was not in a position to comment on whether the United States was close to extraditing anyone.
“The United States currently does not have an extradition treaty with China, but there are other mechanisms available to pursue fugitives,” Kerry said.
“Most fugitives from justice immigrated to the United States illegally, many of them have been repatriated through our immigration laws, and deportation, under those laws.”