Sun, Aug 09, 2009 - Page 5 News List

‘Most wanted’ fugitive in China hopes to go home

AFP , BEIJING

A former Chinese entrepreneur who is described as his country’s most wanted fugitive over a massive smuggling and corruption scandal wants to go home after nearly 10 years in Canada, Chinese media said.

Lai Changxing (賴昌星), who fled with his family in 1999 after China accused him of masterminding a US$6 billion smuggling ring, told the China Business View the past decade had been very “tough” both financially and psychologically.

“I missed my hometown very much and I hope to go back to my motherland one day,” the 50-year-old said in Vancouver in an interview published by the newspaper on Thursday.

In the 1990s, Lai headed the Yuanhua Group, which allegedly smuggled cars, crude oil and cigarettes across the border, while bribing officials to look the other way — a scandal that shook southeast China’s booming Fujian Province.

The case felled several high-ranking officials, including former vice minister of police Li Jizhou (李紀周), who was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve.

Ten years on, Lai accepted China’s tax evasion charges against him and said he was ready to pay fines and face punishment in jail, the paper reported.

Lai’s former wife Tsang Mingna (曾明娜) has voluntarily returned to Fujian with their daughter, Canada’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said, according to the report.

However, Lai’s lawyer David Matas denied that Lai would follow in his ex-wife’s footsteps and return to China of his own free will, the state-run China New Service reported.

Canada does not normally grant refugee status to wanted criminals but deports them to countries seeking to prosecute them. However, China’s use of the death penalty and reputed abuse of prisoners has made Canadian courts reject Lai’s deportation.

Canadian officials refused Lai and Tsang refugee status on grounds they were mere “common criminals,” but attempts to extradite them and their three children have been repeatedly blocked by Canadian courts.

The case has been a diplomatic thorn between Canada and China and a focus of attention for international human rights groups.

China gave Canada a rare diplomatic assurance it would not execute Lai if he was found guilty, but a Canadian judge ruled in 2007 that risk assessments in the case failed to address the possibility that Lai might be tortured in China.

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