BEJING - Lai Changxing has now been sentenced to life in prison for smuggling, with a 15-year sentence tacked on for bribery. This news was announced by only a few of Chinas official media with very limited detail.
Starting out as a businessman Lai Changxing founded the Yuanhua Group. At his height, Lai's group accounted for one-sixth of Chinas national oil imports.
But between 1995 and 1999, Lai somehow got involved in smuggling ordinary commodities such as cigarettes, cars and oil at a value estimated around 27 billion RMB ($4.2 billion). He was accused of tax evasion of 14 billion RMB ($2.2 billion), and using some 40 million RMB ($6 million) to corrupt 64 government officials.
Lai had been a fugitive living in Canada for ten years until his extradition back to China last July.
This is a rather disappointing outcome for a sentence awaited by the public after a lengthy Sino-Canadian extradition battle. Not surprisingly, Lai is not to be executed following Chinas promise to Canada.
Chinas official media have indicated that Lais sentence is a warning and a crackdown on corrupt officials, as well as economic criminals who try to flee abroad.
Nevertheless, I hold an opposite view. I believe that because of criminals such as Lai Changxing, a lot of offenders will now be even more motivated to run away. If they are repatriated or return to China by their own will, they save their lives.
What is most important to note in this case is that since the return to China of Lai, the whole handling of his case has been kept absolutely confidential. From the prosecution, through the court trial to the sentence, all was kept quiet. There were only three newspaper journalists present at the sentence two days ago. All the other reporters were denied entry to the court.
Such a secretive trial involves at least two problems.
First, its a serious violation of the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Constitution. Nobody can believe that this has been a fair trial. Instead, most people believe it to be a show trial. Therefore the claim of severely punishing Lai to demonstrate a disciplinary purpose will never be achieved.
But the even more serious problem is that the public expected that the repatriated Lai should have aided Chinese justice in finding out more information and evidence of the officials suspected of crimes. Its obvious that under a tightly controlled judicial show, the names of the many officials involved in the case had been carefully filtered.
Read more from the Economic Observer in Chinese. Original article by Chen Jieren
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*This is a digest item, not a direct translation