OTTAWA (Reuters) - China's most-wanted fugitive remained behind Canadian bars on Thursday despite a determination from the Immigration and Refugee Board that he was not too likely to flee if he were released.
China is seeking the extradition of Lai Changxing, accusing him of running a multibillion-dollar smuggling operation in China in the 1990s. But the case has taken years of legal maneuvers.
Lai lawyer Darryl Larson said the Immigration and Refugee Board official "found that while Mr. Lai still remained a flight risk, the risk could be managed by the imposition of terms and conditions that satisfied him that it was more likely than not that Mr. Lai would appear for removal."
The Canadian government immediately asked the Federal Court to stay the decision, and the Globe and Mail newspaper reported that in a decision late on Wednesday night the court agreed and Lai remained in custody.
The Federal Court in Ottawa was conducting a further hearing into his case on Thursday morning.
Lai fled to Canada with his family in 1999 and claimed refugee status, saying the allegations against him were politically motivated. Canada rejected his refugee claim, and he was taken into custody and nearly deported two weeks ago.
His legal team is challenging the Immigration and Refugee Board's conclusion that he is not at risk of torture or execution if he is returned to China. His deportation date is tentatively set for July 25, but that could be pushed back by months if he succeeds in further legal challenges.
China says Lai lavished bribes on Chinese officials to avoid paying taxes and duties on goods ranging from fuel to cigarettes that were shipped into China's southeastern Fujian province.
Lai admitted in a 2009 interview with the Globe and Mail that he had avoided taxes by taking advantage of loopholes in the law, but he denies bribery charges. He said if he were not in Canada he would have been executed by now.
Canada does not have a death penalty and will not usually extradite someone to a death-penalty state without assurance the suspect will not be executed.
(Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Janet Guttsman)