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China indicts former fugitive in massive smuggling scandal that exposed graft at high levels
BEIJING (AP) ' Prosecutors said Friday they indicted a former fugitive at the center of China's biggest corruption scandal and that he has confessed to bribery and smuggling.
The move brings authorities a step closer to a conclusion in one of China's most lurid, long-running corruption cases in which the chief suspect fled to Canada and fought extradition for more than a decade.
Prosecutors in the eastern city of Xiamen have indicted Lai Changxing for allegedly masterminding a network that smuggled everything from cigarettes to cars and oil and bribed dozens of government workers between 1996 and 1999, China's state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Lai and other key members of the syndicate have "confessed to the facts of the smuggling and bribery charges without concealing anything," the report said.
Lai became China's most-wanted man after he fled to Canada in 1999 and fought extradition for 12 years until he was deported in July.
Before fleeing to Canada he lived a life of luxury in China complete with a bulletproof Mercedes Benz. He is alleged to have run a mansion in which he plied officials with liquor and prostitutes.
At the time, state TV splashed pictures of the network's allegedly ill-gotten gains: A tiger skin rug laid out on a conference table, confiscated cars belonging to corrupt bureaucrats, a sack of gold rings, and a picture of a young woman, said to be a lover kept for one official by Lai.
Scores of officials and executives involved have been imprisoned and some executed over the scandal. Among those punished were a former deputy police minister, who was quietly removed from his posts as vice minister for public security and deputy chief of an anti-smuggling task force. The deputy mayor of Xiamen and the city's customs chief were also punished.
Chinese media have said Lai's alleged smuggling operation was valued at $10 billion.
China's Communist Party has struggled to control widespread practices of embezzlement, taking kickbacks, and influence peddling that have degraded public faith and sometimes led to violent protest.
Lai had avoided deportation from Canada by arguing he could face the death penalty or be tortured and would not get a fair trial in his home country.
But that legal battle ended in July when a federal court in Vancouver ruled Lai should not be considered a refugee and upheld his deportation.
China promised Canada that Lai would not get the death penalty in 2001 when then-President Jiang Zemin sent the Canadian prime minister at the time, Jean Chretien, a diplomatic note with assurances Lai would not be executed if returned.