Lai Changxing, a Fujian native, has been pursued by the Chinese government on criminal charges of corruption, smuggling, and bribery for more than a decade. He left the mainland for Hong Kong in 1991, proceeding on to Vancouver in 1999. In Canada, he repeatedly and unsuccessfully appealed for refugee status, and was finally extradited last year. His trial began yesterday. The Telegraph reports on Lai’s criminal legacy:
Mr Lai built his empire in the exuberant early days of China’s economic miracle. After quitting his first job, as a well digger, he started an automotive parts factory in 1979.
In a few short years, his business quickly spread, into shipping, cigarettes, paper, textiles, umbrellas, finance, and consumer electronics. He then started up an import-export company which the Chinese authorities claim was merely a front for a spectacular smuggling ring that shipped in everything from Mercedes-Benz saloons to pornography.
In one case, uncovered by investigators, Mr Lai’s ships allegedly brought in more than ten million packets of cigarettes in 1999, dodging £11 million of duty by disguising them as wood shavings.
Altogether, he is accused of earning £4 billion from smuggling in just the three years from 1996 to 1999, a sum almost equivalent to Xiamen’s annual GDP.
The Guardian has more to say on the sordid past of Lai Changxing, the criminal ring he founded, and relays an alternative public appraisal of the man:
State news agency Xinhua said the court in Xiamen, a southern coastal city, was trying Lai for “masterminding a criminal ring engaged in smuggling and bribery”, which reportedly cost the country $3.6bn in unpaid tax. Six hundred people were investigated in connection with the case and 300 punished, according to Xinhua. At least two of those – the former chief of the Xiamen branch of the Commercial and Industrial Bank and former section chief of the city’s customs bureau – were executed, while 11 were given suspended death sentences or jailed for life. Many believed Lai’s connections went far higher.
But some in Xiamen compared Lai, 53, to Robin Hood for his generosity to many in his home town. He was said to have been a lavish tipper who even bought equipment for local police.
China, infamous for it’s widespread practice of capital punishment, promised the Canadian court that Lai would not be executed if returned home for a “fair trial.” BBC reports:
China has reassured Canada he will not face the death penalty if convicted.
Canada, which does not practise capital punishment, forbids the extradition of prisoners to countries where they may be executed.
Correspondents say the case had soured diplomatic relations between the two countries.
[…][Lai’s] lawyers had argued that at least seven of his associates have died or disappeared in China’s justice system. They said he would face torture and execution in China as a scapegoat for high-level officials who were involved in corrupt practices.
China is believed to carry out more executions a year than any other country, but, in this case, has promised Canada that Mr Lai will receive a fair trial and will not face the death penalty.