Prosecutors said on Friday they indicted a former fugitive at the center of China’s biggest corruption scandal and that he has confessed to bribery and smuggling.
The move brings authorities a step closer to a conclusion in one of China’s most lurid, long-running corruption cases in which the chief suspect fled to Canada and fought extradition for more than a decade.
Prosecutors in the eastern city of Xiamen have indicted Lai Changxing (賴昌星) for allegedly masterminding a network that smuggled everything from cigarettes, to cars and oil and bribed dozens of government workers between 1996 and 1999, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Lai and other key members of the syndicate have “confessed to the facts of the smuggling and bribery charges without concealing anything,” the report said.
Lai became China’s most-wanted man after he fled to Canada in 1999 and fought extradition for 12 years until he was deported in July.
Before fleeing to Canada he lived a life of luxury in China complete with a bulletproof Mercedes Benz. He is alleged to have run a mansion in which he plied officials with liquor and prostitutes.
At the time, state TV splashed pictures of the network’s allegedly ill-gotten gains: A tiger skin rug laid out on a conference table, confiscated cars belonging to corrupt bureaucrats, a sack of gold rings and a picture of a young woman, said to be a lover kept for one official by Lai.
Scores of officials and executives involved have been imprisoned and some executed over the scandal. Among those punished were a former deputy police minister, who was quietly removed from his posts as vice minister for public security and deputy chief of an anti-smuggling task force. The deputy mayor of Xiamen and the city’s customs chief were also punished.
Chinese media have said Lai’s alleged smuggling operation was valued at US$10 billion.
The Chinese Communist Party has struggled to control widespread practices of embezzlement, taking kickbacks, and influence peddling that have degraded public faith and sometimes led to violent protest.
The government’s task of fighting corruption remains arduous, said senior CCP leaders on Friday at a meeting presided over by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), according to a statement on the central government’s Web site.
Efforts should be made to fight graft in the construction sector and to address corruption linked to excessive official celebrations and seminars and government cars, the statement said.
In Canada, Lai had avoided deportation by saying he could face the death penalty or be tortured and would not get a fair trial in his home country.
However, that legal battle ended in July when a Canadian federal court in Vancouver ruled Lai should not be considered a refugee and upheld his deportation.
China promised Canada that Lai would not get the death penalty in 2001 when then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) sent then-Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien a diplomatic note with assurances Lai would not be executed if returned.