NEWS
07/12/2011 07:57 EDT | Updated 09/11/2011 05:12 EDT

Lai Changxing, Chinese Refugee, Released Pending Deportation

CP

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- VANCOUVER - One of China's most wanted fugitives has been ordered released again from the revolving door of custody in what's believed to be Canada's longest refugee battle.

Lai Changxing has spent 12 years fighting his return to China, and he faces expulsion again next week after Canada's Federal Court reviews his latest deportation order.

He was arrested last week in preparation for deportation after a second federal government report concluded Lai wasn't in danger if he was returned to face justice in China.

The federal court granted a temporary stay against the order Monday and will listen to full arguments July 21 on whether Lai could be tortured or killed if he's returned.

Chinese authorities allege Lai orchestrated a vast smuggling ring that cheated the government out of billions of dollars in duties on imported goods and bribed officials to look the other way.

Lawyers for the Canada Border Services Agency asked that Lai be held in custody until the hearing, but an Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator ordered Lai released Tuesday.

Leeann King concluded Lai is not a flight risk, but did require him to report in once a week, instead of once a month. She did, however, remove one previous condition of his release that he not associate with known members of the criminal gang the Big Circle Boys.

An agency lawyer argued the Lai breached the previous conditions by having contact with gang members, but King reasoned that if border agency officers wouldn't tell him who they believed were gang members, how was he supposed to know.

"They are unreasonable conditions and impossible for Mr. Lai to comply with," she said in her ruling.

King noted that when Lai received his first pre-removal assessment in May 2006 he knew for a few days before he was contacted by border agency officials.

"Mr. Lai didn't flee, didn't attempt to evade CBSA officers and didn't beach his terms."

A second pre-removal assessment took almost five years to complete and Lai's lawyer, Darryl Larson, said it appeared as if the 100-page report was written to make sure Lai was removed from Canada.

He said his client doesn't think he'll get the death sentence, because that would be a public process.

"What he thinks will happen is that he'll be back in the system and all of the sudden he'll have heart attack or there will be some kind of fatal illness or something that he suffers that basically takes him out of the picture," Larson said outside the hearing room.

Larson said Lai can only continue with his legal fight, hoping eventually something breaks through in his favour.

"If it comes down to that, the man is prepared to go back."

Larson said if Lai's case isn't the longest process in Canadian history, it is certainly close.

Lai, who was listening to the decision over the telephone from jail, let out an audible sigh when he heard the decision.

Chinese authorities accuse Lai of masterminding a network that smuggled as much as $10 billion of goods with the protection of corrupt government officials who he plied with cash, prostitutes and booze.

Before fleeing to Canada in 1999, Lai lived a life of luxury in a seven-storey mansion and drove a bulletproof Mercedes Benz.

Canada and China do not have an extradition treaty. While China has given Canadian authorities assurances Lai will not face execution and last year said it would offer prison access to Lai by Canadian officials, Lai's lawyer maintains those assurances are not enough.

David Matas, the lawyer who will argue Lai's case in federal court next week, has said eight people connected to the case have already been executed in China and others have been jailed for sending Lai funds for his defence.

After his arrest in 1999, Lai was initially under house arrest with a cash bond, then under a curfew and eventually he even obtained a work permit as his case dragged on.

Lai's ex-wife Tsang Mingna, whom he divorced in 2005, and one of their grown daughters returned to China in 2009 under a deal worked out with officials.