Closing in on Shanghai Gang boss

Dec 12, 2008
*Special to asia!

Shanghai Gang boss Jia Qinglin is probably feeling the heat as Lai Changxing offers to squeal on him.

Patience has its own rewards. For Lai Changxing, 48, China’s most famous economic fugitive, a seven-year wait has finally begun to bear fruit.

Recently Lai, who fled to Canada in 1999 with the Chinese police nipping at his heels, granted a rare interview to Yazhou Zhoukan (Asiaweek), the Hong Kong-based Chinese weekly current affairs magazine. In it he hinted he was willing to break his long silence and help the Chinese authorities bring to justice the two key people who helped him perpetrate a US$10 billion smuggling operation in the mid-1990s.

Lai was probably hoping China’s President Hu Jintao would lighten his sentence and perhaps even allow him to stay on in Canada. In return, he would help Hu bring down Jia Qinglin, one of the most powerful men in China.

Jia, the No. 4 person in the Chinese hierarchy, is a former protégé of Jiang Zemin, Hu’s predecessor. He was also the lynchpin of what is known as the Shanghai Gang, the old guard under Jiang, who controlled Shanghai and opposed Hu’s rule. With Jia gone and Jiang forced into passive retirement, Hu would finally see his edict obeyed throughout China.

Lai was the ringleader of an extensive smuggling operation based in the Fujian city of Xiamen that blanketed large parts of southern China, bringing illegal goods ranging from steel and crude oil to cars and cigarettes into China. A lightning strike by then Premier Zhu Rongji in 1999 smashed the operation and placed more than 500 people behind bars. Lai, who was flying from Hong Kong to Xiamen, was tipped off about the arrests by his top police informant. He changed flight to Manila and ended up in Canada.

Since then he has been fighting efforts by China to extradite him, claiming he would be put to death the moment he stepped on Chinese soil. The fact that 14 people, including two then deputy mayors of Xiamen, were given the death sentence; and that Lai’s elder brother died mysteriously in jail, supported his claim. A succession of Canadian judges have granted him temporary asylum, and

it is likely Lai can hang on in Vancouver for at least a further three to five years.

But to Lai, the time is finally right for plea bargaining. In his interview, he claimed Jia and his wife Lin Youfeng were the people who made his smuggling possible. In the 1990s Jia was party boss and governor of Fujian while Lin was head of a state and owned an import and export firm.

The fact that Jia and Lin were linked to Lai is well known. In fact Zhu Rongji had wanted Jia to divorce Lin when the latter moved to Beijing to become mayor of the capital city. Jia called on his mentor Jiang Zemin for protection and Zhu backed off.

Now Hu Jintao, who succeeded Zhu in the fight against corruption, (or some forms of corruption, while closing his eyes to others), is ready to move against Jia. Hu has been rounding up more junior members of the Shanghai Gang including former Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu, but Jia has so far remained untouchable. With Lai providing evidence, Jia’s days could be numbered.


lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


Contact Han Shih