Hearings begin for China's former No. 1 fugitive

AP News
Posted: Apr 06, 2012 3:06 AM
Hearings begin for China's former No. 1 fugitive

The man once considered China's most-wanted fugitive went on trial Friday, accused of using cash, liquor and prostitutes to bribe officials while he ran the country's largest-ever smuggling ring.

Lai Changxing _ who battled deportation from Canada for a decade, saying he risked torture or execution if returned _ appeared in court in the southern coastal city of Xiamen for the start of the high-profile hearings, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Lai is accused of masterminding a $10 billion network that smuggled everything from cigarettes to cars to oil and bribed dozens of government workers between 1996 and 1999. The operation based in Xiamen in Fujian province robbed the government of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes.

The case strained relations between Canada and China, and cast a spotlight on how widespread and deep-rooted corruption is in Chinese society.

More than 600 people were investigated, including customs, police and government officials, and 300 people were punished for their involvement in Lai's alleged deals, according to Xinhua. Lai is accused of using a specially built entertainment complex to throw lavish parties for officials, plying them with cash, booze and prostitutes.

At least two officials, the former chief of the Xiamen branch of the Commercial and Industrial Bank and the former section chief of Xiamen customs bureau, were executed for their involvement in the case. Eleven others, including Xiamen's former deputy mayor and former Public Security vice minister, were given suspended death sentences or sentenced to life in prison.

In Canada, Lai fought against deportation, arguing he would not get a fair trial and could face the death penalty. China promised that would not happen. He was finally extradited last year.

On Friday, the Canadian Embassy in Beijing issued a statement saying that under assurances provided by the Chinese government, embassy officials were at the trial in Xiamen.

"We cannot comment on ongoing legal proceedings," the statement said.

Xinhua quoted a court statement saying Lai's "legal rights" and been safeguarded and that the court was open with some members of Lai's family attending the trial.