Lai Changxing, a flamboyant billionaire smuggler and China’s most-wanted man, has been jailed for life.
The 53-year-old former farmer was found guilty of smuggling container ships filled with billions of dollars worth of luxury cars, cigarettes, oil, textiles and chemicals into China’s southern port city of Xieman throughout the 1990s, and then bribing 64 government officials to look the other way, according to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.
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According to The Daily Telegraph, Lai effectively transformed Xiamen into his own personal fiefdom, running a private seven-floor bordello named the Red Mansion to which friendly, high-ranking government officials would be invited.
He travelled in a bullet-proof Mercedes once owned by Jiang Zemin, then China’s president, bought and played for Xiamen’s soccer team, and tried to construct an 88-storey tower that would have become China’s tallest building.
Lai’s life sentence and the order for the confiscation of his illegally-obtained income were handed down by the Intermediate People’s Court of Xiamen on Friday, following a trial which kicked off in early April. He had fled to Canada in 1999 and managed to avoid being extradited for 12 years by claiming he faced torture and execution in China, according to the BBC.
After promises from Beijing that Lai would not be executed, he was deported in 2011. Some 300 people were punished for being involved in his massive smuggling operation.
According to The Guardian, Lai’s web of influence included Xiamen’s deputy mayor, a deputy public security minister, the deputy of an anti-smuggling task force and dozens of other officials and executives who have subsequently been fired, demoted or imprisoned.
It is not clear whether Lai is planning to appeal his sentence.
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