COVER

SMUGGLING KINGPIN OR RICH REFUGEE?

Tom Fennell December 11 2000
COVER

SMUGGLING KINGPIN OR RICH REFUGEE?

Tom Fennell December 11 2000

SMUGGLING KINGPIN OR RICH REFUGEE?

Lai Changxing may be the wealthiest Fujianese man ever to seek refugee status in Canada. Lai, who was arrested in Niagara Falls, Ont., on Nov. 23, is the alleged kingpin of a smuggling empire based in China's Fujian province. The smuggling ring, which skirted import duties on as much as $15 billion worth of goods entering China, including shiploads of cigarettes and petroleum, was protected by dozens of corrupt officials. A total of 14 senior government officials and employees of Lai’s YuanHua (Fairwell) Group were sentenced to death on Nov. 8 for their role in the scam. A further 70 people, includeing Lai’s two brothers, received prison sentences ranging from three years to life.

Whether Lai, who entered Canada 15 months ago on a forged Hong Kong passport, will be returned to China is

open to debate. Lai and his wife, Tsang Mingna, who was arrested the same day in Burnaby, B.C., have asked the Immigration and Refugee Board to allow them to remain in Canada while they seek refugee status—a process that could take years. “It’s the first round,” said Darryl Larson, one of the couple’s lawyers, “in a long battle.” Future court hearings will likely centre on whether Canada should return an accused criminal to a country where he could face the death sentence. For now, Lai—who after his arrest was returned to Vancouver, where the couple has a $1million home—and Tsang will remain in jail, after the board ruled that Lai had fraudulently obtained the Hong Kong passport he used to enter Canada.

Macleans has learned that during one visit to a casino in Niagara Falls, Lai gambled away more than $2 million. That

money is only a small part of the fortune Lai is believed to have amassed. He owned a soccer club in the Fujian city of Xiamen, and was even planning to build an 88-storey office

I province. Chinese authoring ties claim that he also wined and dined government officials in upscale brothels, and paid huge bribes, including $850,000 to Xiamen’s deputy mayor. “If a man as famous as he is in the criminal world can get in, what does that say about our borders?” asked Canadian Alliance party immigration critic Inky Mark. “It shows we do attract the best of the criminal world.” Mark says the Alliance will raise the issue in the next Parliament—ensuring that the Lai case will be debated for months to come.

Tom Fennell

John Intini