Vancouver fugitive thorny issue in Canada-China relations

CBC News
Dec 3, 2009

Lai Changxing has fought extradition for nine years

Improving trade relations and broaching the subject of human rights might be on Stephen Harper’s agenda during his visit to China. But Chinese officials could have a sensitive issue of their own to raise with the prime minister — the fact that one of China’s most wanted men is still finding refuge in Vancouver.

Lai Changxing is accused of running a smuggling empire that netted him more than $10 billion.

Nine years ago, he fled to Vancouver from China.

Several of his associates have been executed, and China has long demanded Lai be returned to face justice.

Harper arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for a five-day officials visit.

Lai said he wasn’t sure exactly what Harper would say about his case when Chinese officials bring it up, but admitted he was concerned about the discussion.

"If I didn’t come to Canada, they would have killed me," Lai told CBC News. "They have promised the Canadian government they won’t execute me. I don’t believe them. There’s no way I can get a fair trial in China."

Lai denies wrongdoing

Lai said he made a fortune as a businessman in the 1990s. The Chinese have contended he was the biggest smuggler in the country’s history, making billions of dollars through illegal sales of gasoline and cigarettes.

Lai also is alleged to owe at least $300 million in taxes.

Lai said he used to ride in a bulletproof Mercedes in Fujian province, where he built a mansion.

The Chinese claim Lai used the palatial residence to supply liquor and young women in Jacuzzi-equipped rooms to government officials who ended up on his payroll.

Lai did not deny some allegations and admitted he might owe some taxes, but said he merely exploited the system the same way other Chinese businessmen do and he doesn’t deserve to die for it.

"Nine people who used to work for me were given life sentences. Another nine people were executed. The punishment is not balanced," said Lai.

Canada’s reputation in China possibly tarnished

One international relations expert said Canada is becoming known for harbouring criminals and that is harming relations with China.

"You are providing political asylum not to political people, but to criminal suspects," said Victor Gau, director of China’s National Association of International Studies.

"You actually create a greater incentive for criminals to flee to Canada, and that’s not the reputation we need to build upon on this side of the Pacific for a great country like Canada."

The controversy might have been eased by the extradition to China in October of Liu Xiaoquan, accused of profiting from fraudulent contracts.

Liu had exhausted the sometimes lengthy immigration appeals process in Canada. Ottawa has said Lai also must also be allowed the same legal considerations.

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