May 18, 2012 / 2:27 AM / 5 years ago

China jails smuggling kingpin Lai for life

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court convicted Lai Changxing, who was deported from Canada, on smuggling and bribery charges and jailed him for life on Friday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The conviction effectively ends the career of a man whose case tainted ruling Chinese Communist Party officials - including Jia Qinglin, who sits on the elite Standing Committee - with rumors of malfeasance, collusion and dereliction of duty.

Lai was jailed by a court in Xiamen, a coastal city in east China where he was accused of running a vast smuggling ring in the 1990s protected by senior officials who were paid off.

"The crimes involve massive sums and particularly serious circumstances," the court said, according to the Xinhua report, which cast the conviction as showing the ruling Communist Party's determination to fight corruption.

"The Chinese government's determination to attack crime and root out corruption is unwavering, the report said.

Lai can still appeal against the conviction and sentence.

The court concluded that, from 1991, Lai "established companies, strongholds and networks in Hong Kong and Xiamen to form a smuggling clique" that cheated customs inspectors to import cigarettes, cars, oil products, industrial materials and textiles worth a total of some 27.4 billion yuan ($4.3 billion).

Lai bribed 64 officials through gifts of cash, real estate and vehicles worth some 39.1 million yuan, and he evaded taxes totaling 14.0 billion yuan.

Lai's crimes occurred in the special economic zone of Xiamen in Fujian province in the mid-1990s when Jia, now the Communist Party's fourth most senior leader, was the province's party boss.

Lai and his family fled to Canada in 1999, where he claimed refugee status, saying the allegations against him were politically motivated. The case became a sore point between Beijing and Ottawa.

Lai was deported in July 2011 after a legal battle in which a Canadian court dismissed concerns he could be tortured or executed if sent home. China promised Lai would not be tortured or executed and Canadian officials would have access to him.

Canada has said its diplomats have had regular access to Lai since his deportation. A spokesman for the Canadian embassy in Beijing said he could not give immediate comment on the court verdict.

($1=6.32 yuan)

Reporting by Chris Buckley; Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Paul Tait

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