A 10,500-word article written by correspondents of Xinhua News Agency and People's Daily discloses details of the biggest smuggling operation uncovered in China since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.
Lai Changxing, 43, head of a smuggling ring in Xiamen, in East China's Fujian Province, ran a multi-billion-dollar smuggling operation in China between 1996 and the first half of 1999.
It took a team of investigators almost two years to completely smash the ring and for the criminals to be punished by law.
Investigations revealed that from 1996 to 1999, Lai and other suspects smuggled goods worth 53 billion yuan (US$6.38 billion). The evaded tax totaled 30 billion yuan (US$3.6 billion).
More than 600 people were involved in the illegal activities. Some 200 suspects who had fled the area have been caught. To date nearly 300 suspects have been put on trial.
Lai bribed a number of officials of several foreign trade companies in Xiamen in order to shield his smuggling by using the companies' export-import licenses. In this way, the ring was able to smuggle over 180,000 tons of refined oil and 3,588 cars, valued at 2 billion yuan (US$241 million) in total, from June 1996 to January 1998.
In April 1999, he evaded more than 100 million yuan (US$12 million) in taxes by declaring to customs that 24,380 cases of cigarettes were wood pulp.
At one point, Lai's band of smugglers were so brash that they did not go through customs procedures at all; instead they turned to the local commodity inspection bureau and harbor superintendence to arrange false checkups and made the smuggled goods enter Xiamen.
During the 1996-99 period, Lai smuggled in this way 3.91 million tons of refined oil worth 10.4 billion yuan (US$1.25 billion), evading 2 billion yuan (US$241 million) in taxes.
Lai bribed officials from several key departments, such as the customs and the port office, in order to build a distribution center for what was smuggled into Xiamen. Lai was informed in advance which TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit) would be examined by the customs and then had the targeted TEUs reloaded with goods that accorded with the bill of entry.
Yang Qianxian, former head of Xiamen Customs, was among those who accepted bribes from Lai and then turned a blind eye to his smuggling.
Lai also ordered a group of people to write false value-added tax receipts to sell his smuggled goods to other parts of the country, bringing 357 million yuan (US$43 million) of losses to the government.
Lai also controlled the illegal smuggling activities in Xiamen. Any would-be smugglers were forced to pay Lai a certain amount of money to get their goods passed unchecked through customs. In addition, Lai forced those smugglers to share 70 percent of their "profit" from the smuggled goods.
To buy people off, Lai offered either huge sums of money or women, or helped promote those who wanted power.
In return, those corrupt officials gave the green light to Lai's smuggling. Some even refused to help investigators by burning bills of goods for smuggled items.
Lai also obtained huge loans from local banks through illegal means. The Bank of Communications Xiamen branch alone wrote 25 letters of credit for Lai for a total sum of US$38.41 million, in violation of banking regulations.
A 74-page tip-off letter was sent by some insider in Xiamen to the relevant department of the central government in April 1999. Attached with it were some bills of sale, documents and other evidence of criminal activity.
An investigation panel formed by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China, the Ministry of Supervision, and the General Administration of Customs, arrived in Xiamen secretly in June 1999.
The investigators made a breakthrough during their probe into oil smuggling. Less than 20 days of hard work revealed that nearly 4 million tons of refined oil had entered China without declaration at customs from 1996 to 1998.
A group of smugglers and corrupt officials were investigated, leading to the collapse of Lai's complicated protection network.
(Xinhua News Agency 07/26/2001)