, BEIJING April 6 – The alleged mastermind of a multi-billion dollar smuggling racket whose extradition to China sparked a bitter diplomatic row with Canada went on trial Friday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The trial of Lai Changxing began in Xiamen city in eastern Fujian province, where the alleged kingpin moved contraband reported to be worth between $6 billion and $10 billion before fleeing to Canada in 1999.
Lai is facing charges of running a criminal organisation that engaged in smuggling and bribery, Xinhua news agency said.
It was not clear how long the trial would last and the Xiamen intermediate court refused to comment on the case when contacted by AFP.
Lai was deported to China in July last year after he waged a 12-year battle against repatriation from Canada that tested the nerves of both nations.
He fled to Canada with his family in 1999 after the case emerged, rocking Fujian’s political establishment and leading to the dismissal or arrest of numerous officials implicated in the racket who were either paid off by Lai or who turned a blind eye to his crimes.
Lai sought asylum in Canada, where he arrived on a tourist visa with his then wife, two sons and a daughter, saying the Chinese accusations against him were politically motivated.
Canada, which does not have capital punishment, bans the return of prisoners to countries where they might be put to death.
But China issued an unusual promise not to execute Lai — believed to be in his 50s — if he is tried and found guilty.
Xinhua said the trial was open to the public and that numerous government officials and Lai family members had applied to attend.