China Scandal Suspect Wants Canada
TORONTO (AP) _ A Chinese man at the center of his nation’s largest corruption scandal is seeking refugee status in Canada because he may face the death penalty if he returns home, his lawyer said.
Canadian police arrested Lai Changxing and his wife on an immigration warrant earlier this week. They were to go before immigration officials at a hearing Tuesday to decide if they should be kept in a Vancouver jail, released, or deported.
Immigration officials in Canada _ which has no extradition treaty with China _ refused to discuss Lai’s case until after Tuesday’s hearing. However, Lai’s lawyer, Alastair Boulton, indicated that he might argue that Chinese charges against Lai are based more on politics than crime.
Chinese prosecutors accuse Lai of smuggling $6.4 billion in cars, oil, cigarettes and other products through the port of Xiamen in China’s Fujian province, avoiding $3.6 billion in import taxes. Authorities also accuse Lai of buying official protection in a corruption scheme that reached the top of the ruling Communist Party.
Following a 15-month investigation, courts in Xiamen and four other cities in Fujian province earlier this month sentenced 11 people to death, including police and government officials. In all, 84 people were convicted in the first round of trials involving the smuggling ring.
Lai, who is accused of heading the smuggling ring, has not been convicted.
China refused to say Tuesday whether it would ask Canada to hand him over.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said China had noted reports of the arrest of Lai and his wife, but said the ministry had no comment on the case. Zhang declined to say whether China has formally asked Canada to extradite Lai.
Boulton said Lai and his family came from Hong Kong to Canada in August 1999 on six-month visas, and will present their case for permanent refugee status soon.
Boulton said the Chinese government had threatened to execute Lai’s brothers if he didn’t leave Vancouver and return to China. Lai denies wrongdoing in China, and left to escape the coming trial, Boulton said.
``What had gone on for a long time was seemingly fine,″ Boulton said. ``We believe that this is largely politically motivated.″