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Canada Denies Asylum to Chinese Fugitive

China has welcomed Canada's decision to deny refugee status to a Chinese fugitive accused in a multi-billion dollar smuggling case. Beijing has promised Canada it will not execute the accused smuggling kingpin in the hopes of winning his extradition.

Lai Changxing, one of China's richest businessmen-turned fugitive, is accused of orchestrating the largest smuggling ring in Chinese Communist history.

Chinese investigators say Mr. Lai smuggled about $6 billion worth of cars, oil, electronics and other goods into the country. The scandal cost the government almost $4 billion in lost import duties. Mr. Lai and his family fled to Canada in 1999, and appealed for asylum there the following year. But late last week, a Canadian immigration panel rejected that appeal.

Chinese state media Monday welcomed Canada's decision. The official China Daily newspaper quotes Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao as saying the ruling confirms that Mr. Lai is a criminal fugitive.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, head of the French Center for Research on Contemporary China, says China sees the Canadian ruling as an important victory in its campaign against corruption. "Lai Changxing is the kind of businessperson who has managed to make good use of his connections - within the political system, within the Communist Party, the security apparatus, the customs authority in China - in order to smuggle a lot of goods from Hong Kong and outside of China to Fujian and other areas in China proper," says Mr. Cabestan.

Beijing accuses Mr. Lai of bribing scores of government officials. Chinese courts have already sentenced 14 people to death in connection with the Lai case including some Communist Party officials. Investigators have also arrested more than 500 others suspected in the scandal.

Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji has promised, if Canada now deports Mr. Lai, he will not be executed if found guilty. But Mr. Cabestan says some Canadian authorities are skeptical and may still allow Mr. Lai to stay. "There's a lot of resistance in Canada proper against such a transfer of criminals back to China, where they risk a much harsher penalty than in Canada if they're prosecuted there."

Canada's Supreme Court has ruled that the government cannot deport anyone to a country that imposes the death penalty.