February 10, 2009 / 10:36 PM / in 9 years

China unhappy as accused smuggler gets Canada permit

BEIJING (Reuters) - China expressed its unhappiness on Tuesday at Canada’s granting of a work permit to a Chinese man accused by Beijing of being a smuggling kingpin.

Permission for Lai Changxing to get a job is another twist in a case that is a thorn in relations between China and Canada. Ottawa has denied Lai political asylum but it has also been blocked by the courts from sending him home.

“We are extremely concerned about the Canadian side’s behavior,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news briefing.

“The Chinese government is unwavering and consistent in its position that the fugitive Lai Changxing return to face trial under Chinese law. We have already made serious representations to the Canadian side,” she added.

Lai, 56, fled to Canada with his family in 1999, just as Chinese police were about to arrest him. He lives in Vancouver under limited house arrest.

He is suspected of having built a multibillion-dollar operation in which Chinese officials were bribed to avoid paying taxes and duties on goods ranging from fuel to cigarettes that were smuggled into China’s southeastern province of Fujian in the 1990s.

Lai has denied criminal wrongdoing and says that the allegations are politically motivated.

Canadian officials said on Tuesday they were also upset that Lai has been allowed to get a job while he fights to remain in Canada, but they said there is little they can do about it.

The courts have ruled that people living in Canada under an order preventing their removal have the right to get a work permit if they have no other means of supporting themselves.

“The government’s hands are tied in this matter,” said Alykan Velshi, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. “Minister Kenney is unhappy, as I think are all Canadians, that Mr. Lai is able to work in Canada.”

The Canadian government has supported China’s bid to have Lai returned, but it has been unable to persuade its own courts that China will honor a pledge that Lai will not be executed or mistreated.

Lai told the Toronto Star newspaper he hopes to find work selling real estate, and does not have enough money to start his own business.

Lai’s lawyer has said that granting Lai a work permit was an acknowledgment by Canada that he did not have access to the fortune officials have alleged he made through his illegal activities.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Allan Dowd; Editing by Peter Galloway

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