In a surprising turn of events, China’s most wanted fugitive, Lai Changxing, was ordered detained after a rare night sitting of the Federal Court Tuesday night.
The ruling by a Federal Court judge to detain Lai for at least seven days came mere hours after he was ordered released by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) pending the outcome of his appeal of his removal order, to be heard next week.
A Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) spokesperson confirmed Lai’s reversal of fortune in a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon.
“Mr. Lai’s detention will be continued as the Federal Court issued a stay of his release,” it said.
A lawyer for the immigration ministry was not expected to file an appeal of Tuesday’s controversial decision by IRB member Leeann King for at least two or three days, pending the release of the official transcript of King’s lengthy ruling, an IRB spokeswoman told The Province.
But after King’s 11/2-hour-long verbal ruling outlining her reasons for releasing Lai, a lawyer for the minister moved quickly to have it stayed.
Immigration ministry lawyer Kevin Boothroyd laid out a strong case before King for why Lai — accused of masterminding a $10-billion importation racket in China by bribing customs officials — should remain in custody after his arrest last week by CBSA officers.
One of the conditions of Lai’s release granted four years ago was not to communicate with known criminals.
Lai, who claims he is broke, associated with notorious loan shark Betty Yan before her spectacular murder outside an illegal Richmond gambling parlour late one night in March 2009, Boothroyd argued.
Yan was allegedly a member of the Big Circle Boys, a criminal gang in Vancouver.
She lived an extravagant lifestyle in a millionaire’s mansion in one of Vancouver’s wealthiest enclaves. Yan once hosted a social gathering for the headmaster and parents of children who attended the exclusive West Point Grey Academy, where Yan’s child was a kindergarten student, King noted in her ruling.
The headmaster was outwardly friendly with Yan and one of the party guests was a Crown counsel, she noted.
When asked about calls he made to Yan’s phone number, Lai told CBSA enforcement officer Cheryl Shapka he owed Yan money and she had been calling him.
Lai also had a five-year friendship with alleged loan shark Ting Yan Wah (a.k.a. Henry Ting), as well as members of the Big Circle Boys and another local triad, Boothroyd argued.
But King scolded the ministry’s officials for not telling Lai that these people were criminals.
“If the CBSA does not tell him who are Big Circle Boys, where was Mr. Lai supposed to get this information?” King said.
Near the end of her decision, King listed the names of three people with whom Lai was prohibited from associating, as a condition of his release — Ting, Hwang Xiao Yin and Tam Kwok Chung.
Lai, following the proceedings being translated into Chinese over a two-way communication from North Fraser Pretrial Centre, cheekily asked King to spell the names of the three allegedly shady characters.
Lai has been successfully fighting his removal since shortly arriving with his now-ex-wife and three children from China — which has no extradition treaty with Canada — in 1999. He claimed refugee status, arguing he could not get a fair trial in China, where 15 of his alleged associates have been sentenced to death for their parts in the massive importation and bribery scheme.
His brother and accountant have died in jail under suspicious circumstances, his lawyers say.
Lai’s lawyers are expected to argue in Federal Court on July 21 that he can’t get a fair trial in China’s dubious justice system and that assurances extracted from Chinese authorities by the Canadian government that he will not be tortured or arbitrarily executed are inadequate.
If they fail to convince the judge, Lai is expected to be deported July 25.
If he wins his case, Lai will likely remain in Canada as a free man indefinitely, albeit in legal limbo.