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Friday, 26 January, 2001, 15:43 GMT
China fugitive wants 'luxury jail'
Vancouver
Lai arrived in Vancouver in 1999
China's most wanted fugitive has told a Canadian judge he would be willing to pay $53,000 a month to turn his luxury home into a virtual prison while he fights for political asylum.

Lai Changxing, who is accused of masterminding a multi-billion dollar smuggling ring, was arrested in November for immigration offences.

Lai Changxing
Lai has been dubbed China's most wanted man
He is widely expected to be sentenced to death if he returns to China and has applied for asylum along with his wife Tsang Mingna.

The couple are currently in jail, but their lawyers say they should be allowed to live under house arrest pending the outcome of their legal battle which could take years.

A Canadian security expert, hired by Mr Lai, testified this week that his company could turn the couple's Vancouver apartment into a virtual prison for around $10,000.

He said it would then cost around $13,200 a week to prevent the Lais from escaping.

The security would include round-the-clock guards, cameras, special locks and metal detectors to ensure weapons were not smuggled in.

A report in the South China Morning Post said it was not explained how the couple would come up with the money.

Banker

The Lais entered Canada in August 1999 as visitors using Hong Kong passports.

But the Canadian Government says they are ineligible for asylum as the crimes they are accused of are not political.

Mr Lai's house arrest proposal is modelled on a similar plan devised for Thai fugitive banker Rakesh Saxena who is fighting extradition for his alleged role in the collapse of the Bangkok Bank of Commerce in the mid 1990s.

The banker is paying C$40,000 ($26,580) a month to be kept under house arrest in his Vancouver home.

But Canadian Government lawyer Jim Murray said there was a greater risk of Mr Lai fleeing and it was wrong to encourage such house-arrest schemes.

"The rich get to live in a luxury condominium with their handpicked guards while the poor go to jail," he added.

Bribery

China says Mr Lai was the key figure in a vast smuggling racket which evaded import duties on more than $6bn worth of goods.

At least 11 people have already been sentenced to death for the scam.

A ruling on the house-arrest proposal is expected on 2 February.

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See also:

27 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
China wants extradition talks
24 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's 'most wanted' arrested
08 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
China sentences 14 officials to death
13 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Corruption: End of China's Party?
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