Lai Changxing, long considered one of China’s most wanted fugitives, faces deportation to the People’s Republic later this month, after his dramatic arrest late last week by Canadian border services agents.
In a brief conversation at an immigration detention hearing Monday, Mr. Lai said the agents swooped in on his downtown Vancouver residence about 1 p.m. last Thursday and bundled him into custody.
He entered the hearing room with his customary grin, hands bound by yellow handcuffs and wearing the normal red prison garb of the North Fraser Pretrial Centre, where he is being held.
Mr. Lai was arrested after Immigration Canada – following four years of deliberation – determined that he is not at risk of being tortured if he is sent back to China.
The good-humoured, one-time high-roller is charged with masterminding an extensive smuggling network that imported consumer goods into the bustling port of Xiamen without paying custom duties, during a wild period of Chinese commerce in the 1990s. He is also accused of bribing government and police officials to look the other way.
He had been scheduled to be sent back on a flight to China as early as Tuesday afternoon. However, Mr. Lai won an interim stay of deportation Monday morning, giving him a chance to argue for a longer stay in a one-day Federal Court hearing July 21.
If Mr. Lai loses that appeal, the tentative date for his return is July 25, said Canadian Border Services Agency representative Kevin Boothroyd.
It would be the end of his prolonged legal fight to remain in Canada, which has lasted more than 10 years.
In 2007, a Federal Court judge overturned a previous Immigration Canada finding that Mr. Lai faced no risks back in China.
Mr. Justice Yves de Montigny referred to many outside reports attesting to the use of torture on prisoners in China, including one by a UN special rapporteur on torture who had visited the country.
The judge ordered a new risk assessment, with more emphasis on the risk of torture.
The four years it has taken to issue a second risk assessment is believed to be unprecedented. It likely reflects Canadian attempts to negotiate increased safeguards for Mr. Lai.
Earlier this year, Chinese authorities agreed to give Canadian officials regular access to Mr. Lai in prison, as a way of ensuring he is not tortured.
Mr. Lai has been fighting deportation since he was first arrested at a casino in Niagara Falls in November, 2000, arguing that he cannot get a fair trial in China and he is at risk of being mistreated in custody.
His continued residence in Canada has been a sore point with Chinese leaders, one of whom, then-prime minister Zhu Rongji, said he should be executed three times over.
In an interview two years ago with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Lai admitted skirting the law, but said he was merely taking advantage of perceived loopholes at a time of murky custom regulations.
Immigration and Refugee Board member Leeann King said she would rule Tuesday on whether he should remain in custody while waiting for his July 21 court hearing.
Mr. Boothroyd of the CBSA called on the board to leave Mr. Lai in jail, pointing out a deportation date was fast approaching and he might be tempted to flee.
He also reiterated earlier allegations that Mr. Lai had associated with members of the so-called Big Circle Boys organized crime gang.
Mr. Lai’s lawyer, Darryl Larson, argued that his client had been free for many years without problems, and the so-called association with alleged criminals had not previously prompted the CBSA to seek his arrest.
The Globe and Mail