MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
He's been called China's most wanted fugitive. He's been living for years in Vancouver, British Columbia, while China seeks his extradition to face charges of smuggling and bribery. Lai Changxing was a billionaire who created a vast empire of dubious business deals. He fled China in 1999, and he says he'll be killed if he's sent back.
Today, Canada's Federal Court held a hearing to decide whether Mr. Lai will in fact be deported. Greg Rasmussen has been following this story for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
GREG RASMUSSEN: This would be his last gasp appeal. He's trying to convince the courts that mistakes were made earlier in the handling of his case. And the appeal goes back to his refugee case. And the main grounds were that, if he is sent back to China to face these charges, that he would be executed or tortured.
Now, the Canadian Government has received assurances from China that that's not the case, that he will not be executed if he's returned. So in some ways, that undercuts his case. But he's still arguing that he could be tortured if he's returned.
BLOCK: There is some precedent, though. I've read that eight people associated with his business have been executed, 14 sentenced to death back in China.
RASMUSSEN: That's right. This is a very high profile case in China. They're saying that basically, this is an internal Chinese matter. And in those other cases, that's the way the justice systems work. So they're not apologizing for the way they treated other people convicted in this case. But they're saying in Mr. Lai's case, he will not be executed.
BLOCK: And why is Canada saying yes, this man should be deported back to China?
RASMUSSEN: Well, they're saying that he doesn't have grounds to stay here as a refugee. They're saying that these crimes are serious, and that it's a matter for China to decide his fate.
BLOCK: What have you learned about how Mr. Lai made his fortune back in China?
RASMUSSEN: I talked to him earlier this week, and it really is quite an amazing story. It started back in 1979. He got a job in an auto parts plant. He eventually took that over. And then, it just steamrolled from there to the point where he was importing, literally, billions of dollars worth of goods.
BLOCK: automobiles, cigarettes, televisions, you name it. He was bringing it in by ship, and he didn't pay a dime in taxes or duties.
BLOCK: And then there are bribery charges as well.
RASMUSSEN: That's right. Well, to be able to ship, you know, thousands of containers through the ports, he had to have an awful lot of people looking the other way. And so there are allegations he used cash, cars, prostitutes, all kinds of incentives to bribe hundreds - literally hundreds of officials to look the other way during all of this.
He ran something called the - which is known locally there as the Pleasure Palace. It was an elaborate building that was all set up to entertain these people and ply them with food and wine and whatever they wanted. So it was really quite a huge empire.
BLOCK: Well, Mr. Lai has been there in Vancouver for seven years now. What's his life been like there?
RASMUSSEN: Meeting with him earlier this week in his apartment, he definitely isn't leading, what I'd say is the billionaire lifestyle anymore. He's confined, house arrest, he's - so he's staying in an apartment. His marriage has dissolved. His wife is here as well as three children, but definitely fallen circumstances.
BLOCK: Is this hearing today the last word on what his fate will be?
RASMUSSEN: No. In a word, it won't be. His lawyers indicated that if this fails, this measure before the court fails and the Canadian government says, okay, your appeals are done, we're going to deport you - the lawyer, then, is going to the United Nations and their Human Rights Tribunal and ask that the U.N. step in.
And they have no legal authority to prevent the Canadian government from deporting Mr. Lai, but they can use their moral power to say that Canada should not be deporting anybody back to China, especially in this case, because he would face the risk of torture. And that the human rights situation in Chinese prisons is not up to western standards, despite some improvements. So he's hoping that the U.N. will put political pressure on Canada to prevent this deportation.
BLOCK: Greg Rasmussen, reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, speaking with us from Vancouver. Greg, thanks very much.
RASMUSSEN: Thank you.
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