Canada grants Chinese fugitive a work permit
By JEREMY HAINSWORTH
updated 4:06 p.m. PT, Sat., Feb. 7, 2009
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Canada has granted China's most wanted man a work permit, which means his deportation on smuggling and corruption charges is not imminent, his lawyer said Saturday.
Lawyer David Matas said Lai Changxing is still awaiting a pre-removal risk assessment decision by Citizenship and Immigration Canada to evaluate the risk Lai faces if he is sent back to China.
In 2007, Federal Court Judge Yves de Montigny ordered a judicial review of an earlier assessment that concluded Lai Changxing and his wife, Tsang Mingna, would not be executed if returned to China. They have long maintained that they face capital punishment.
Chinese President Hu Jintao earlier sent then-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien a diplomatic note with assurances the alleged smuggling kingpin would not be executed if returned to China.
Matas said the assurances cannot be believed.
Canada and China do not have an extradition treaty.
Chinese authorities accuse Lai of masterminding a network that smuggled as much as $10 billion of goods with the protection of corrupt government officials. Beijing claims the smuggled goods included cigarettes, vehicles, heating and cooking oil, textiles, chemicals and other raw materials.
Lai lived in luxury in China in a mansion and drove a bullet-proof Mercedes.
The couple, who are now separated, and their three children fled China and arrived in Canada in 1999, and then applied for asylum. They said the refugee board that in 2002 initially turned down their asylum claim overlooked the nature of political persecution in China. The case has proceeded through court challenges and appeals ever since.
Matas said Saturday that by Canada granting Lai the permit, Canadian authorities have recognized that he does not have any independent funding. Matas said the decision is something the Canadian government should have realized a long time ago.
Matas said that in China, the political opinion is that Lai is guilty.
However, a spokesman for China's Supreme People's Court told the China-based People's Daily last year that Lai would not be executed, saying it was a matter of international credibility.
The case has long been a thorn in Canada-China relations.
China has said repeatedly that the Lai case was the country's biggest scandal.
Eight people connected to the case have already been executed in China in connection with the case.
Several people have been jailed for sending Lai funds for his defense.