Extradited criminal gets life for smuggling


AT ITS peak in the 1990s, Lai Changxing’s smuggling empire transported chemicals, cooking oil, tobacco and cars. He had hundreds of police, customs officers and government officials on his payroll in the southern port city of Xiamen that he ran like his personal fiefdom.

Before he became China’s most-wanted fugitive, he drove around in a bullet-proof Mercedes and ran a famous mansion in which he corrupted government officials with alcohol and prostitutes.

Yesterday he was sentenced to life in prison for smuggling and bribery in a corruption case in the southern province of Fujian that reached into the highest echelons of the Communist Party and involved a 12-year extradition fight with Canada. “The crimes involve massive sums and particularly serious circumstances,” court officials told the Xinhua news agency.

Xinhua reported that Lai was convicted and sentenced by the Intermediate People’s Court in Xiamen. On top of the life sentence for smuggling and a concurrent 15-year term for bribery, the court ordered all of his personal property seized.

Lai’s conviction is being depicted in the state media as an example of the Communist Party’s ongoing war on corruption.

“The Chinese government’s determination to attack crime and root out corruption is unwavering,” it said. Lai was extradited to China only after Beijing promised he would not face execution.

Between 1995 and 1999, Lai’s company, the Yuanhua group, oversaw the smuggling of €3.3 billion worth of goods, including motor oil, textiles, chemicals, cars and cigarettes, and the loss in revenues to the Chinese customs office was about €1.7 billion.

He was a popular figure among ordinary people, as he cultivated a Robin Hood-style persona of taking from the rich and giving to the poor, and he was often called the “Bandit King”.

Among the high-profile figures caught up in the scandal were Li Jizhou, China’s former vice public security minister, who was later given a suspended death sentence; the deputy mayor of Xiamen; and the wife of Jia Qinglin, the Fujian province party secretary until 1996 and an ally of then Chinese president Jiang Zemin. In July last year, the Communist Party newspaper, the People’s Daily, called it the biggest economic crime case since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Lai fled China following an investigation and eventually pitched up in Canada in 1999.

The extradition battle was a slow one and there were fears that he might implicate some senior officials in his public comments.

Separately, authorities have blocked prominent human rights lawyers from representing the nephew of the activist Chen Guangcheng, assigning him two government-appointed lawyers instead.

Chen Kegui (32) is accused of attempted homicide in a clash he had with local officials in Shandong province who stormed his house looking for his uncle.

His uncle escaped an illegal house arrest last month and sought the protection of US diplomats. He is now in hospital awaiting permission to travel to the US to study, in a case that caused major tensions between China and the US.