Life for man formerly China’s most wanted over corruption case

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The man once considered China’s most-wanted fugitive was sentenced to life in prison for smuggling and bribery in a lurid corruption case that reached into the highest echelons of the Communist Party and involved a decade-long extradition fight.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported that Lai Changxing was convicted and sentenced yesterday by the Intermediate People’s Court in Xiamen, the port city which was his base.

On top of the life sentence for smuggling and a concurrent 15-year term for bribery, the court ordered all of Lai’s personal property seized, Xinhua said.

The sentencing marked an end for what a decade ago had been one of China’s biggest political scandals.

From Xiamen and through his company the Yuanhua Group, Lai ran an extensive smuggling network, using the amassed fortune to cultivate powerful political protectors.

Tainted in the scandal were a deputy police minister, who was later given a suspended death sentence, and the one-time provincial party secretary who was politically untouched and became a member of the party’s ruling Politburo.

Lai’s network smuggled everything from cigarettes and cars to oil and textiles. The court’s verdict said the operation totalled $3.3 billion, evaded $1.7 billion in duties and other taxes and bribed 64 officials between 1996 and 1999, Xinhua reported.

After a broad corruption and anti-smuggling investigation unmasked Lai’s operation, he managed to flee the country, tipped off by local officials, and eventually reached Canada in 1999.

He then became the focus of a 12-year extradition battle – with Chinese leaders often worried that Lai might implicate senior officials in public comments – until he was deported last year.

In his heyday, Lai lived a life of luxury in China, complete with a bulletproof Mercedes. He is alleged to have run a mansion in which he plied officials with alcohol and prostitutes. Scores of officials and executives involved have been imprisoned and at least two executed over the scandal.