Wed, Mar 16, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Chinese fugitive appeals Canada's asylum rejection

SEEKING SANCTUARY Lai Changxing says he will be executed if returned to China, while his lawyer slammed irregularities by the Chinese authorities

AP , VANCOUVER, CANADA

China's most wanted fugitive asked Canada's Federal Court of Appeal to overturn a refugee board decision denying him and his family sanctuary.

Lai Changxing, his wife Tsang Mingna and their three children arrived in Canada in August 1999 after fleeing China via Hong Kong.

Chinese authorities accused Lai of being the mastermind behind a smuggling ring based in Xiamen, China, that brought as much as US$10 billion worth of goods into the country under protection from corrupt officials.

Fearing execution if they were returned to China, the family applied for refugee status in Canada.

"Mr. Lai made a refugee claim and he failed," said his lawyer, David Matas, on Monday. "He's trying to get that refusal overturned. If he's successful, then there will be a new refugee claim."

It's not known when the appeal court will render a decision.

In a decision released in June 2002, a refugee board panel found Lai and Tsang were "not credible and that there were serious reasons for considering Lai had committed the crimes of smuggling and bribery."

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) sent former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien a diplomatic note with assurances the alleged smuggling kingpin would not be executed if returned to China.

China claims the smuggled goods brought in by Lai's ring included cigarettes, vehicles, heating and cooking oil, textiles, chemicals and other raw materials.

Matas has maintained that Lai continues to fear execution despite Beijing's assurances.

Matas said the fact Canada requested such assurances indicates the Canadian government has questions about torture and executions in China.

"That should be enough not to send him back," he said.

Matas also told the three-judge panel on Monday that Chinese officials lied several years ago on visa applications to get into Canada to meet Lai. He questions why the Canadian government should believe the assurances.

Further, he said, much of the evidence against Lai appears to have been coerced through torture. That, he said, cannot be proven, though.

"How do we get evidence of torture?" he asked. "Torture is a form of intimidation. [The victims] are not going to come forward. The torturers are not going to come forward."

Matas also told the court that the assurances come from Beijing and not the Chinese courts which are supposed to be independent of the government. It is the courts which would impose a death penalty.

He said the Chinese courts are being manipulated for political purposes.

He said the political opinion in China is that "Mr. Lai is guilty."

Matas said the case began when a man with gambling debts wanted money from Lai and later denounced him to Chinese authorities. That denunciation was then handed to investigators, he said.

"The investigators were told to find evidence implicating Mr. Lai," Matas told the court.

Eight people connected to the case have already been executed in China in connection with the case, Matas said.

Several people, including Tsang's mother, have been jailed for sending Lai funds for his defense, Matas said.

"This is just straight persecution," Matas said.

Chinese consular officials were in court for the proceedings.

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