OTTAWA (Reuters) - China’s most wanted man remained in custody in Canada on Wednesday, despite a determination by officials that he poses little risk of fleeing.
Beijing is seeking the deportation of Lai Changxing, who is accused of running a multibillion-dollar smuggling operation in China in the 1990s.
Lai fled to Canada with his family in 1999 and claimed refugee status, saying the allegations against him were politically motivated.
Canada rejected his refugee claim, and he was taken into custody and nearly deported last week, following years of legal wrangling.
Despite a determination by the Immigration and Refugee Board on Tuesday that there was no apparent flight risk and that Lai could go free for now, the Federal Court stayed that decision later in the day, in response to a request from the Canadian Border Services Agency.
“He is still not free,” Lai’s lawyer, David Matas, said.
He now faces one or more hearings in the next two weeks on various aspects of the complicated case. His legal team is challenging the Immigration and Refugee Board’s conclusion that he is not at risk of torture or execution if he is returned to China.
His deportation date is tentatively set for July 25, but that could be pushed back by months if he succeeds in further legal challenges.
China says Lai lavished bribes on Chinese officials to avoid paying taxes and duties on goods ranging from fuel to cigarettes that were shipped into China’s southeastern Fujian province.
Lai admitted in a 2009 interview with the Globe and Mail newspaper that he had avoided taxes by taking advantage of loopholes in the law, but he denies bribery charges. He said if he were not in Canada he would have been executed by now.
Canada does not have a death penalty and will not usually deport someone to a death-penalty state without assurance the suspect will not be executed.
The case is likely to arise during Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird’s July 16-20 visit to China, where he is trying to expand Canada’s reach.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made waves in 2006 when he said that he would not sell out human rights in China “for the almighty dollar.”
But the government appears to be tempering its public stance in pushing for more trade, said China specialist Tom Vassos at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
“It’s becoming a global powerhouse that’s really hard to ignore,” he said.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Rob Wilson