The key figure in what has been called the biggest corruption scandal in communist China’s history made another bid on Friday to become a free man in Canada, where he is being held on immigration charges.
Attorneys for Lai Changxing — alleged to be the kingpin of a mainland Chinese smuggling empire — attacked the fairness of China’s justice system and the accuracy of Chinese police documents being used by Canadian authorities.
“Clearly there is a difference between criminal prosecution and a witch hunt,” lawyer Darryl Larson told the immigration adjudicator Daphne Shaw Dyck, who plans to rule Tuesday whether Lai should be kept in jail pending a deportation hearing.
Lai and his wife, Tsang Mingna, were arrested last week by Canadian authorities, more than a year after they fled to Canada to escape a Chinese criminal investigation that has ensnared scores of government officials.
Lai, 42, has filed for political refugee status in Canada. He has denied he engaged in smuggling and alleged that Chinese authorities have threatened his family. He says he would be killed if he was forced to return to his homeland.
Lai watched calmly on Friday as a Canadian prosecutor argued to the immigration adjudicator that Lai and Tsang were likely to flee Canada if they were released before the deportation issue was decided.
It was the second detention hearing for the couple in less than a week. The adjudicator in the first hearing ordered they remain in jail.
Mainland China alleges that Lai is the brains behind an operation, based near the southern port of Xiamen, that smuggled cars, luxury goods, cigarettes, oil and raw materials worth more than US$6 billion into China in the early ‘90s.
To avoid paying customs duties, Lai’s Yuan Hua Co. is alleged to have paid off hundreds of city and provincial officials with money and women — and kept others under control with threats of blackmail.
Canadian authorities, mainly using documents prepared by Chinese investigators, allege Lai maintained a wide-ranging smuggling operation in mainland China and Hong Kong and had links to Asian gangs that also operate in Canada.
Among the allegations against Lai cited by prosecutors in this week’s hearings is that he even offered a US$349 million bribe to Chinese Premier Zhu Ronghi in return for amnesty.