Chinese smuggling kingpin wins as Canada drops deportation appeal
Sep 18, 2007
VANCOUVER, Canada (AFP) Alleged smuggling kingpin Lai Changxing has won another round in his fight to avoid being sent back to China after the Canadian government dropped its appeal of a court ruling that blocked his deportation due to human rights concerns, his lawyer said Tuesday.
But Lai's lawyer David Matas charged that Canada was still trying to deport his client, who allegedly masterminded a six billion dollar smuggling ring, because of diplomatic rather than legal or human rights reasons.
“The government has endless resources to throw after bad cases and tends to be motivated by diplomatic considerations rather than legal considerations,” Matas told a news conference.
The case of Lai, a “most wanted” man, has been a thorn in diplomatic relations between Canada and China since Lai fled to Vancouver in 1999.
Since then, China has repeatedly asked Canada to return Lai, alleging that Lai and his ex-wife Tsang Ming Na ran a criminal ring in southern China that bribed government officials and smuggled as much as 10 billion US dollars of luxury goods.
And as the complex legal wrangling continues, his strange case has become an international cause celebre in human rights circles.
After Canadian officials rejected Lai and Tsang as refugees on the grounds they were mere “common criminals,” a series of court rulings citing human rights concerns blocked all official attempts to deport them, with their three adult children, to China.
The Canadian government quietly dropped in recent weeks its appeal of a ruling by Canada's Federal Court, which prevented their deportation last April and ordered a fresh review of the risk they face from China.
China gave a rare diplomatic assurance to Canada that it would not execute the pair if charges were laid and they were found guilty in that country. But, Judge Yves de Montigny ruled, earlier assessments of risk had failed to address the possibility that China would torture him.
Matas said the fact that Canada quietly dropped its appeal of de Montigny's ruling shows the difficulties courts and countries have in deciding “how to deal with diplomatic assurances given by countries that habitually torture people in detention.”
Another pre-removal risk assessment for Lai and Tsang is now underway, said Matas, a well-known human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg. Matas added it will take at least seven months, as a new government official reviews some 100 volumes of legal documents.
“If Mr. Lai succeeds he'll be able to stay. If he fails … we'll try all this over again,” said Matas.
Lai, dressed in a casual jean jacket and a rumpled striped shirt, sat beside him and smiled at reporters but, in contrast to earlier news conferences, refused to answer questions about how he is supporting himself or what he fears from China.
“In my view they cannot” return Lai to China, said Matas, because there is no way for Canada to ensure China's compliance with any diplomatic promises not to harm him.
“There aren't any (methods in place) right now. There would have to be new diplomatic assurances … and verification.”
Matas has argued that for them to be sent back, China would first have to promise Canada that Lai and Tsang would have access to their own lawyer, that all interrogations would be video-recorded and the identities of those present revealed, with “prompt and independent” medical examinations available on request.
“This of course would raise diplomatic issues and it would require that Mr. Lai receive protection that is not available to anybody else in the Chinese legal system,” said Matas.
In a separate legal battle, the Canadian government is appealing another ruling last April to lift Lai's curfew. Lai currently lives in a downtown Vancouver condominium under conditions that include a 70,000 dollar bond, a requirement to report an address change, register with Canadian border officials weekly, avoid casinos, and provide monthly phone records to officials.
He is also not allowed “to communicate with certain known criminal organizations,” said his local lawyer Adrian Huzel.