Chinese brothers seized in connection with alleged $100-million embezzlement
Siblings join ex-banker Gao Shan awaiting hearing
The Globe and Mail
PETTI FONG AND GEOFFREY YORK
VANCOUVER, BEIJING — The two Chinese brothers who allegedly masterminded the embezzlement of more than $100-million from a bank in China have been arrested by Canadian authorities in Vancouver.
Li Dongzhe, 40, and Li Donghu, 38, are scheduled to appear today at an immigration detention review. Their arrest came two weeks after authorities picked up Bank of China manager Gao Shan, who is also accused of being involved in the enormous fraud.
Immigration officials and Chinese police allege the three men were part of a group that transferred about $136-million out of banks and into bogus Canadian companies.
In immigration documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, the Chinese Public Security Bureau said all three men fled to Canada between Dec. 30 and Dec. 31, 2004, one week before the police in the city of Harbin filed notice it was investigating them. The Li brothers arrived in Canada on visitors’ visas, which have since expired.
RCMP surveillance records show Mr. Gao did little to attract attention. The documents say Li Dongzhe, who they call the driving force behind the embezzlement, lived extravagantly. Mr. Gao, 52, drives a blue Mazda. Mr. Li had three BMWs and bought a house in Vancouver worth $3-million.
The three men’s lives were reconnected after the Li brothers were arrested last Friday and detained at North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Coquitlam, where Mr. Gao has been since his arrest Feb. 16.
“I want to tell the Chinese government that I am not a corrupt official,” Mr. Gao said in an short interview with The Globe.
Although an arrest warrant was issued for Mr. Gao in 2005, he said the Public Security Bureau has never contacted him for an interview.
“From my home and my church and my friends helping me, you can see I’m not corrupt,” he said in Mandarin.
Mr. Gao was ordered released on Feb. 22, but officials at the Canadian Border Services Agency rejected the order from immigration adjudicator Marc Tessler, saying that it could not be certain the $300,000 sum used to secure Mr. Gao’s release was not the proceeds of crime.
In another hearing yesterday to re-evaluate whether Mr. Gao should now be released, Alannah Hatch, lawyer for the CBSA, argued that he poses a flight risk and is unlikely to show up for removal from Canada.
Last week, RCMP obtained access to a safety-deposit box being used by Mr. Gao’s wife, Li Xue.
Inside, police say they found the equivalent of $37,000 in three different currencies: non-convertible Chinese yuan, U.S. dollars and Korean won.
In an RCMP affidavit, Staff Sergeant Len Wolokoff wrote that it would not be unreasonable to imagine Mr. Gao and Ms. Li could have established some financial and community connections in some other jurisdiction.
“Korea and the United Kingdom are places Gao has been to more than once, and Xue lived and studied in the United Kingdom for a period,” he wrote.
Toronto lawyer Lorne Waldman said yesterday that he is flying to Vancouver next week to talk to Mr. Gao about representing him.
“For me, the issue is about the human rights record in China,” said Mr. Waldman, who represented Maher Arar. “I’m concerned about whether people get fair trials in China.”
A friend of Mr. Gao and Ms. Li came forward yesterday at the immigration hearing to offer up a performance bond to secure the fugitive’s release. The couple’s residential properties, which include their house and a rental property, are both heavily mortgaged.
The family have been surviving on Ms. Li’s income as a child care worker of $33,000 a year.
Family friend Darla Chibi, who has offered $150,000 as a performance bond, said she believes in Mr. Gao.
Mr. Tessler said Mr. Gao has a moral obligation now to his friends.
Mr. Gao and his wife are next scheduled in immigration court on Tuesday to answer charges that the family lied on their document papers to enter Canada.
As permanent residents of Canada, Mr. Tessler said, the family has status in Canada and it will likely be 18 months or longer, if ever, before Mr. Gao is removed to China.
In China, meanwhile, a growing chorus of voices says Canada is becoming a haven for criminals.
The Chinese news media, which are heavily state-controlled, are hurling a barrage of criticism at Canada’s immigration system, calling it lax and riddled with loopholes. In recent articles, they denounced Canada as “a paradise for fugitives” and “a paradise for corrupt officials.”
One popular Beijing newspaper, Global Times, said Canada is failing to act aggressively enough on the problem of Chinese criminals on the lam. “As more and more corrupt officials flee to Canada, with more and more embezzled money involved, Canada will have mounting conflicts with other countries,” the newspaper warned.