Top fugitive may be returned
China's most-wanted fugitive, Lai Changxing, could be extradited back home within days following media reports that he has been detained by Canadian border security officers ahead of a one-day federal court hearing on July 21.
Lai was arrested after four years of deliberation by Canadian immigration authorities determined that he was not at risk of being tortured if he was sent back to China.
Canadian national newspaper The Globe and Mail reported that he was scheduled to be put on a flight to China as early as yesterday, but he won an interim stay of deportation on Monday morning.
Canada Border Services Agency representative Kevin Boothroyd told the newspaper that if Lai lost his extradition appeal hearing on July 21, the tentative date for his return would be July 25.
The hearing could end a protracted 10-year legal battle over the former Fujian businessman's application for refugee status. He was accused of operating a large criminal ring under the cover of his Yuanhua Group and allegedly smuggled goods worth billions of yuan into China. He could face smuggling, tax evasion and bribery charges.
He fled to Canada in 1999. Beijing formally applied for his extradition in November 2007, going to great lengths to assure the Canadian government that Lai would not be tortured or executed on his return.
However, such assurances are controversial at home, where criminals have been executed for embezzling or misappropriating far less than Lai is accused of taking. Some Chinese commentators argue that the assurances contravene the fundamental principle of equality before the law.
Sun Kui, a Beijing-based criminal lawyer who has been following Lai's case, said China had to abandon capital punishment when seeking the extradition of suspects from countries that abided by some international conventions.
'Otherwise, there is almost no way the government can bring Lai back and no chance of him facing trial,' Sun said.
Beijing has signed bilateral extradition treaties with a number of countries, including Spain and France, in which it agrees to waive capital punishment for those who are returned to China, even though the country's 2000 Extradition Law does not include such a provision.
To tackle the discrepancies between the international treaties and national law, Sun said, the legislature should move to phase out the death penalty in convictions for financial crimes, since China was not likely to abolish the death sentence across the board in the short term.
David Matas, Lai's lawyer, told another Canadian newspaper, The Province, that his client was being used as a scapegoat in a bogus public relations exercise to try to convince the Chinese people that their government was tough on corruption.
He said torture and arbitrary execution were quite common in China and that Lai's brother and his accountant had died in prison.
'He fears a similar fate,' Matas said.