Beijing: China began hearing the case on Friday against the alleged head of a vast smuggling ring Lai Changxing, China's most wanted man until he was deported by Canada last year after a decades-long legal battle.   

China accuses Lai Changxing of running a multi-billion dollar smuggling operation of unprecedented scale dating back to the 1990s in southeastern city Xiamen.    

Prosecutors formally charged Lai in February with "masterminding a criminal ring engaged in smuggling and bribery," as reported.   

The brief report did not say when a verdict could be expected, though in such high-profile cases courts rarely linger over their decisions. Lai's legal rights had been "fully guaranteed".   

Lai's alleged crimes occurred in the special economic zone of Xiamen in Fujian province in the mid-1990s when Jia Qinglin, now the ruling Communist Party's fourth most senior leader, was the province's party boss.     

Beijing has accused Lai's business empire, the Yuanhua Group, of organising a smuggling ring that implicated more than 200 senior figures.     

Lai and his family fled to Canada in 1999, where he claimed refugee status, saying the allegations against him were politically motivated. He was deported last July after a legal battle in which a Canadian court dismissed concerns he could be tortured or executed back home.     

Canada says that Canadian diplomats have had regular access to Lai since his deportation. Lai may face life imprisonment, state media has reported. But some legal experts and human rights activists have said it is unlikely he will receive a fair trial.