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Police testimony links Lai to illegal gaming house

Lai Changxing is escorted out after an Immigration and Refugee Board detention hearing in Vancouver on Tuesday, July 19, 2011.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

A Vancouver police informant participated in a three-person conversation about running an illegal gaming house that included Chinese fugitive Lai Changxing, an officer told the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Mr. Lai, who was arrested earlier this month by the Canada Border Services Agency and is accused of masterminding an extensive smuggling network into the bustling port of Xiamen, appeared at a detention review Tuesday afternoon. He's been jailed since his arrest July 7 and CBSA has argued he's a flight risk with ties to organized crime.

At Tuesday's hearing, Detective Constable James Fisher testified one of his informants said Mr. Lai was in charge of the gaming operation at a Richmond, B.C., residence. Mr. Fisher did not name his source and acknowledged the man was once paid between $100 and $300.

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"What I can tell this proceeding is that Mr. Lai was one of three people who were part of that conversation," Mr. Fisher said.

The Vancouver officer conceded that in his source's trips to the home, the man never saw any bets made or winnings collected. The residence was owned by a woman known to police.

Mr. Fisher said the information was eventually handed over to RCMP, since Richmond is not in his department's jurisdiction. He said, to the best of his knowledge, no warrants were ever executed on the house.

Darryl Larson, Mr. Lai's lawyer, blasted the officer's reliance on a source who he suspected to be engaged in criminal activity himself.

"So when you came to give evidence today, you thought you could just say it was an unnamed source and basically we just have to accept that?" Mr. Larson asked.

"No. My intention in attending today is to provide as much evidence and to answer questions as fully as possible, but to also adhere to the common-law privilege that is granted to sources," Mr. Fisher said in rebuttal.

Mr. Lai, one of China's most wanted fugitives, has faced a circus-like atmosphere at his immigration hearings. Tuesday was no different, with dozens of cameramen and reporters documenting his every move.

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He was dressed in red prison garb and donned a pair of thick, black glasses, He had brief chats with members of the Chinese media, but said little else.

His hearing ran long and was adjourned until Wednesday morning, forcing Mr. Lai to spend another night in custody.

Even if he is ordered released Wednesday, he'll be right back in court on Thursday. That's when the Federal Court will hear arguments on whether he should be sent back to China.

Mr. Lai was ordered deported after Immigration Canada ruled he's not at risk of being tortured if he returns to China. The government agency made that determination after four years of deliberation, and just days before Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird headed to China to bolster relations between the two countries.

If the Federal Court rules against Mr. Lai, CBSA has indicated it will deport him July 25.

Mr. Baird, during a conference call from Beijing on Monday, signalled Stephen Harper's government feels little sympathy for Mr. Lai.

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"I'm prevented from going into specifics on the individual case. But [what]I can say is this. … The one thing I've found, [where]there's significant alignment is both the Canadian people and the Chinese people don't have a lot of time for white-collar fraudsters."

David Matas, another of Mr. Lai's lawyers, said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail on Tuesday that Mr. Baird's comments were inappropriate.

"He sends a double message. On the one hand, he says he is not interfering. On the other hand, he interferes by commenting on the case," Mr. Matas wrote from Berlin.

Mr. Lai's battle to stay in Canada has lasted longer than 10 years. He has been fighting deportation since he was first arrested at a casino in Niagara Falls in November, 2000. He has argued he cannot get a fair trial in China and is at risk of being mistreated in custody.

Earlier this year, Chinese authorities agreed to give Canadian officials regular access to Mr. Lai in prison, as a way of ensuring he is not tortured. Mr. Lai's lawyers have scoffed at that promise.

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