China jails smuggler Lai Changxing for life

The BBC's Martin Patience: "Mr Lai is facing life in prison and has been stripped of all his assets"

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Lai Changxing has been jailed for life for running a multi-billion dollar smuggling ring, Chinese media say.

Xinhua news agency said Lai, extradited from Canada, was convicted and sentenced by a Fujian court.

The 53-year-old was accused of bribing officials and smuggling goods including cars, cigarettes and oil in one of China's biggest political scandals.

He fled to Canada in 1999 and avoided extradition for 12 years by arguing he faced torture and execution in China.

Beijing promised Canada he would not be executed and he was deported in 2011.

Canada usually forbids the extradition of suspects to countries where they might face the death penalty, and the case severely tested diplomatic relations between the two.

Analysis

Lai Changxing operated his smuggling ring from the port city of Xiamen. He led a luxurious lifestyle, reportedly being driven around in a bullet-proof Mercedes Benz.

The enterprise is said to have made billions of dollars in avoiding custom revenues. But scores of officials were on his payroll - exposing the extent of corruption in China.

According to reports, he had a luxurious mansion where he plied officials with alcohol and prostitutes. The crime boss is also believed to have high-level contacts among China's military and political elite.

Lai fled to Canada after his huge smuggling ring was smashed by the authorities in the 1990s. He fought a decade-long legal battle to remain in Canada.

The case strained relations between the two countries. But Beijing got its man after it promised Canada that Lai would not be executed if found guilty.

"The trial shows China's firm resolve in fighting crime and corruption," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said during a regular press briefing.

"This case also shows that China and Canada have important law enforcement co-operation."

Smuggling operation

The sentence was handed down by the Intermediate People's Court of Xiamen - the city at the heart of Lai's operations - after a trial which began in early April.

The court said Lai's income that was obtained illegally would be confiscated, Xinhua reports.

Lai was accused of running a huge smuggling operation from 1991 to 1999.

He established a complex network to cheat import tariffs of 13.99bn yuan ($2.21bn) on goods worth 27.39bn yuan, the court said.

The goods included cigarettes, cars, heating and cooking oil, textiles and chemicals.

It also said Lai and his associates bribed 64 government officials with amounts totalling 39.13m yuan.

Some 300 people were punished for their involvement in the operation.

"The sums involved are unusually large, and the details are extraordinarily serious," the court said, according to the Xinhua report.

It is not clear whether Lai is planning to appeal.

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