Lai case can prove China is changing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 July, 2011, 12:00am


When a crime is committed on the mainland and the suspect flees to another country, it is reasonable to expect that they should have to answer the charges. Beijing's most wanted fugitive, Lai Changxing, has yet to do that, despite 12 years passing since he arrived in Canada. Instead, he has variously spent time in jail, under house arrest and free while fighting deportation. Throughout, his argument has remained unchanged - that he will be executed if sent home.

The death penalty is against the spirit of Canada's laws, just as in most countries. It is understandable that there should have been reticence about deporting Lai when he showed up in 1999 with his family and sought political asylum. The mainland still executes more people each year than anywhere else. Judicial processes remain largely opaque.

But Lai is accused of grave financial misdemeanours. He is said to have led a network that smuggled goods valued at billions of yuan into China with the protection of corrupt officials. A number have been arrested and jailed; a handful have been executed. In Beijing's eyes, his continued freedom sends the worst of messages about corruption.

Lai contends he is innocent and says the bribes he is alleged to have paid officials were gifts. Without a trial, it is his word against that of authorities. Beijing has pledged he will not face the death penalty.

Commercial fraud is among the more than 50 crimes that attract execution, but pressure has meant courts are increasingly handing down suspended death sentences. The trend was confirmed as policy by the Supreme People's Court in May. Given the high profile of the case and the judicial reforms under way, there is no reason to believe Beijing will go back on its word. Canada should send Lai back. By ensuring he gets a trial that meets accepted international standards, the mainland can prove to the world that it is committed to change.