US & Canada

Canada deports fugitive Lai Changxing back to China

Lai Changxing signs a warrant issued for his arrest at Beijing airport on 23 July 2011
Image caption Lai Changxing signed a warrant issued for his arrest upon his arrival in Beijing

One of China's most-wanted fugitives has arrived back in Beijing after a Canadian court cleared the way for his deportation.

The repatriation of Lai Changxing marks the end of a 12-year legal battle against his extradition.

The 52-year-old, who is accused in China of heading a multi-billion dollar smuggling operation, argued that he would be executed if sent back.

China has reassured Canada he will not face the death penalty if convicted.

Canada, which does not practise capital punishment, forbids the extradition of prisoners to countries where they may be executed.

Correspondents say the case had soured diplomatic relations between the two countries.

'Prime suspect'

Mr Lai was escorted by Canadian police on the civilian flight from Vancouver and handed over to Chinese police upon his arrival in Beijing.

State television showed him being read his rights by a police officer before being taken into custody.

His return to China swiftly followed the decision by the court in Canada to allow his deportation.

"The life of the applicant is in the Chinese government's hands," the court ruled, citing a Chinese proverb, on Friday.

China accuses Mr Lai of running a huge smuggling operation in Fujian province in the 1990s. They say he dealt in up to $10bn worth of goods including cigarettes, cars, heating and cooking oil, textiles, chemicals and other goods.

Hundreds of senior members of the regional political establishment were implicated in the case. China's Xinhua news agency says that more than 600 people were investigated - including customs, police and government officials - and 300 were punished for their involvement in the operation. At least two officials were executed.

Mr Lai fled with his family to Canada in 1999, but he was denied asylum and has fought to stay ever since.

His lawyers had argued that at least seven of his associates have died or disappeared in China's justice system. They said he would face torture and execution in China as a scapegoat for high-level officials who were involved in corrupt practices.

China is believed to carry out more executions a year than any other country, but, in this case, has promised Canada that Mr Lai will receive a fair trial and will not face the death penalty.

The Chinese foreign ministry on Friday "welcomed" the Canadian court's ruling, describing Mr Lai as the "prime suspect" in the smuggling case and saying the government had been very "clear" about its desire to put him on trial.

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