The alleged head of a massive smuggling ring that operated for years in China’s south stood for his first day of trial on April 6, according to state media.
The timing of the judicial proceedings have not escaped remark amidst the current political climate: Chinese analysts note that Jia Qinglin, a member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo, the chief organ of power in China, was the Party Secretary of Fujian Province during the height of Lai’s alleged smuggling activities. Lai operated from Xiamen, a city in Fujian.
Xi Jinping, the apparent next leader of the Party, was deputy Party secretary of Fujian and Party secretary of Fuzhou City.
Analysts have speculated that Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao were keeping Lai Changxing in reserve, as a way of restraining Jia Qinglin, a stalwart of former regime leader Jiang Zemin. As the alleged head of a massive criminal operation that flourished under the noses of Party bosses, Lai would be expected to know much that those leaders would prefer undisclosed.
Since his extradition to China on July 23, 2011, Lai has been in the Xiamen City Second Detention Center. The People’s Procuratorate of Xiamen was considered to have processed his case with unusual efficiency, having prepared for the trial by the end of December last year. Xinhua, the state news agency, announced the trial on April 6.
According to state media reports, Lai’s Yuan Hua group was involved in the smuggling of cars, cigarettes, oil, industrial chemicals, and much more.
Lai is accused of having evaded US$3.6 billion in taxes as the founder and mastermind of the US$10 billion scheme, during which he allegedly bribed high-level officials.
Over 600 people were involved in the Yuan Hua smuggling case, 300 of whom were found guilty when the purge came. Of those, 21 faced the death penalty and eight were executed.
Before he could be captured, Lai and his family fled to Canada, where they remained in exile for 12 years. Lai’s extradition last year was the—to many, questionable—denouement of a 12-year diplomatic negotiation between China and Canada. It often turned on the question of whether Lai would be given a fair trial.