A Chinese businessman deported from Canada after more than a decade on the run was found guilty of contract fraud Friday and sentenced to 15 years in jail, in what his lawyer and family say is a test case for Chinese fugitives around the world.
Zeng Hanlin, who fled to Canada in 1999, was charged in relation to a failed business merger, said his Canada-based lawyer, Daniel Kingwell.
He fought unsuccessfully for refugee status and was deported last February when Canada ruled his fear of the death penalty, torture and an unfair trial were unfounded, Kingwell said.
The 66-year-old's family complained that no members of the media were allowed into his trial on Nov. 17 or when the verdict was given Friday.
His son, Sam Zeng, one of two family members allowed into the courtroom in Chengdu in Sichuan province, said a previous lawyer who was locally hired told him he was under pressure to persuade his father to confess to the charge.
According to a report from the official Xinhua News Agency in February, when Zeng arrived back in China there had been three previous cases of people extradited from Canada to face charges on financial crimes. The two countries do not have an extradition treaty.
Kingwell wrote in an email ahead of the verdict that the case has international significance "because it is a test case for the many other Chinese fugitives in Canada and other countries. They are claiming refugee status on the basis that they will not receive a fair trial, among other concerns."
Last year, Canada also deported Lai Changxing, the man long considered China's No. 1 fugitive, to China, where he is accused of running a $10 billion smuggling ring that dealt in everything from cars to oil in a scandal touching the government's highest levels.
He was extradited after China assured Canada he wouldn't face the death penalty. Last month, state media reported that Lai had confessed to bribery and smuggling and prosecutors had indicted him for allegedly masterminding a smuggling network.
At the time, state media said that according to 2010 police statistics there were nearly 600 Chinese suspects at large overseas wanted for economic crimes.
Zeng's lawyer in court Friday, Zhu Yalin, said Zeng was convicted of contract fraud and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment and a 2 million yuan fine ($320,000).
The main office of the Chengdu Intermediate People's Court referred calls Friday to their No. 2 criminal court office, which referred calls to their propaganda office, where phone calls rang unanswered.
(This version CORRECTS to add previous extraditions from Canada.)