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No resolution in sight for top smuggler's repatriation

Updated: 2004-09-28 17:20

Lai Changxing, the alleged mastermind of a multi-billion-dollar smuggling racket in southeast China's Fujian Province, has been wanted by the authorities back in China for five years. Lai was charged with being responsible for smuggling US$10 billion worth of goods in collaboration with corrupt officials, the biggest smuggling operation uncovered in China since 1949.

Lai began to apply for a refugee status as soon as he arrived in Canada in August 1999. In February 2004 the Canadian Federal Court ruled to reject his appeal for "refugee status."

Vincent Cheng Yang is a senior research fellow with the Vancouver-based International Center for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy. He came to Beijing for the weeklong 17th International Congress on Penal Law that opened on September 13.

China Youth Daily reports Yang's views on the Lai extradition case.

According to Yang, Lai is now in a lawsuit against the Canadian government. The court will probably not come to a decision on this until next year. His case is now within the jurisdiction of the Federal Court, which has placed a restriction on his movements as a precaution against him absconding. He will have only a few hours of personal freedom of movement each day until the court gives down its final decision.

"Suppose the Federal Court decision comes out next June," Yang said. "Whichever party loses the lawsuit, whether it is Lai Changxing or the Canadian government, they won't take it lying down and will surely lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada. This procedure usually takes several months. Then several more months will go by while the Supreme Court decides whether or not to hear the case. If the Supreme Court does eventually decide to allow the appeal, it will then take a long time for the case to be concluded. So judicially speaking, there is little prospect of an early repatriation for Lai Changxing."

So what is actually making the resolution of Lai's case so time-consuming?

"First of all Lai is a Chinese citizen alleged to have committed crimes in China. Such criminal acts would not fall under the jurisdiction of the Canadian courts," said Yang.

"Evidence gathering is another thorny problem. To investigate Lai's claim of eligibility for 'refugee status,' the Canadian government has already spent a tremendous amount of time collecting evidence from China to prove Lai's asylum claim is untenable. In fact Lai's case shows how experienced lawyers can use evidence issues to play for time in the Canadian court system," said Yang.

"Meanwhile Canadian judges are not familiar with Chinese law. They would rather err on the side of caution and devote extra time to handling cases in which Chinese citizens are implicated. In short, it seems that as long as Lai has the money to engage lawyers, the lawsuit may drag on endlessly," said Yang.

Canada is currently a favorite destination for China's fugitive corrupt officials. So far, not one has ever been extradited back to China.

Although the two countries signed a Treaty on Judicial Assistance in Criminal Cases as far back as 1994, the effective implementation of the agreement has run into problems. In addition, since there is a wide discrepancy between their views on human rights, especially on the issue of the death penalty, the two sides have not yet concluded a full extradition treaty.

In order to facilitate the pursuit of its fugitive corrupt officials, Yang suggests that China should enter into agreements with the Western countries to split any money recovered.

In recent years China and Canada have intensified their judicial cooperation. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has built and maintained a long-term partnership with China.

The two countries cooperate mainly through three main programs. The recently launched Sino-Canadian procuratorial reform and exchange program is set to run for five years. The Sino-Canadian legal aid and community legal services program started this year. Skills training for criminal defense counsels has been co-hosted by the Chinese Lawyers Association and the Canadian Lawyers Association for many years.

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