Feb 07, 2009 04:30 AM
VANCOUVER – From most wanted to help wanted: China's most famous fugitive is on the hunt himself – for a job.
Lai Changxing, 56, fled China for Canada 10 years ago after learning he was about to be arrested for allegedly masterminding a billion-dollar smuggling operation of TVs, cigarettes and cooking oil. Chinese authorities claim Lai paid off hundreds of government officials to avoid paying taxes.
Lai said he applied for a Canadian work permit eight months ago and found out last week he's been given a one-year permit. Now he's hoping to find work selling real estate.
"I have experience in real estate investments," Lai said yesterday.
Even though he's been living in Canada since 1999, Lai has never been allowed to legally work and said in Mandarin his English skills are still poor so he hopes to work within the Chinese community.
Asked by a reporter whether he would want to own his own business, Lai said he didn't have the money to start his own company.
It's a long way from the previous life of the former self-made billionaire, who once controlled a massive business empire and lived a lavish lifestyle in southern China's Fujian province.
Born into poverty, Lai apprenticed as a blacksmith and became a factory owner, but allegedly discovered that smuggling generated a steadier cash flow.
His business conglomerate, Yuan Hua Group, handled crude oil and vegetable oil, petrochemicals and plastics, consumer electronics and cars, steel and rubber, cigarettes and computer chips.
At the height of his power, Lai's penchant for excess was legendary: he cruised the streets of the decadent city of Xiamen in a bulletproof Mercedes limousine, built a breathtaking replica of the Forbidden City in the fields of Fujian, and cemented business connections in his sumptuous six-storey salon, the Red Mansion, complete with spas, suites and high-priced hostesses in the heart of Xiamen.
Authorities eventually turned their sights on the books of Lai's Yuan Hua Group, and he fled the country for Canada in 1999, just before police raided the firm and sealed off its premises, gathering evidence that implicated hundreds of officials in the bribery scandal.
The fugitive continues to fight a deportation order after a multi-year court battle in the Canadian justice system. He argued that he will disappear as soon as he arrives on Chinese soil because he is considered a symbol in China. Fourteen people with links to Lai's operations based in Xiamen have been executed.
Canadian officials relied on a diplomatic note from China saying Lai would not be given the death penalty if returned to face the Chinese justice system. Canada and China do not have an extradition treaty.
He was ordered deported in 2007 and was days away from being sent back with a one-way ticket issued in his name when he got a reprieve.
Danielle Norris, a spokesperson with Citizenship and Immigration, said a person under a removal order cannot receive a work permit unless the case has been referred for a pre-removal risk assessment, as in Lai's case. The applicant for a work permit also has to show he has no other means of support.
Lai's lawyer, David Matas, said yesterday in an interview from Geneva that receiving the work permit is an important achievement and bolsters the fugitive's position that he does not, as Canadian and Chinese authorities claim, have access to money being sent to him via an underground network.
Lai's deportation remains on hold, said Matas, while the Canadian government considers whether the fugitive's life is in danger if he is forced to return to China.
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
Corruption is one of the reasons that the countries like China have difficulties with the Rule of Law. This is one case that does not augur well for Canada's respect for the Rule of Law. It is another symptom of Canada's Political Rule of Law determined by political correctness as it applied by Ontario's Family Court Judiciary in making draconian decisions declaring father's criminals without a trial and putting them in jail indefinitely simply for being born with testicles and asking the court to deal with malicious mother hell bent on parental alienation. Check out Peter Roscoe's research at the Ottawa Men's Centre site