Jia Qinglin

From smuggling kingpin to a life behind bars

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2012, 12:00am


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Lai Changxing, once the mainland's most-wanted fugitive, has been jailed for life by a court in Fujian for running a huge smuggling operation and leading a bribery ring.

Yesterday's verdict and sentencing by the Intermediate People's Court in Xiamen , the port city where Lai ran his empire, brought an end to a case that highlighted the depth and breadth of official graft and inflamed tensions between China and Canada for more than a decade.

In a trial that began early last month, Lai, 53, was charged with running an operation that avoided duties worth 27.4 billion yuan (HK$33.7 billion) on a variety of smuggled products ranging from cigarettes to petroleum products, cars and raw materials from 1995 to 1999.

The court handed down a concurrent 15-year sentence for his bribing of 64 government officials and also ordered the confiscation of the proceeds from his illegal activities.

'The crimes involve massive sums and particularly serious circumstances,' Xinhua quoted the court as saying. 'The Chinese government's determination to attack crime and root out corruption is unwavering.'

The report did not indicate whether Lai planned to appeal.

Lai fled with his family to Canada as investigators uncovered the vast smuggling operation in 1999, and applied for refugee status. He avoided deportation for more than a decade, arguing that he faced execution if returned to China, even though then-president Jiang Zemin assured the Canadian prime minister at the time, Jean Chretien, in 2001 that Lai would not be executed.

Lai was finally deported last July after a long court battle.

Lai's network of corruption is understood to have touched the families of some of China's most senior leaders. It was reported that the wife of Jia Qinglin , currently No4 in the Communist Party hierarchy, had been implicated, but that was denied by the government and she never faced charges. Jia was party boss of Fujian between 1993 and 1996. Vice-President Xi Jinping was also a senior official in the region, becoming vice-mayor of Xiamen in 1985 and rising all the way to provincial governor in 2000.

In an interview with overseas media in Canada, Lai said that on several occasions he had met Jia Tingan , a close associate of Jiang and head of the then-president's office.

Analysts said the leadership had been eager to wrap up the case before this autumn's leadership transition.

Commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the timing of Lai's trial was designed to show Beijing's determination to fight corruption before the 18th party congress, at which Xi is expected to succeed President Hu Jintao as party general secretary.

Scores of officials and executives involved in the Xiamen scandal have been imprisoned, and some executed. Among those punished were a former deputy police minister who was quietly removed from his posts as deputy public security minister and deputy chief of an anti-smuggling task force. The deputy mayor of Xiamen and some senior provincial and Xiamen officials in charge of customs, legal affairs and the police were also punished.

Additional reporting by Ng Tze-wei