A Whitehorse man awaiting trial for drug running has an international rap sheet.
Kwong Li was arrested last month in the largest cocaine seizure in territorial history. He’s currently in the Whitehorse Correctional Centre awaiting trial on two narcotics charges.
He’s only in Canada because officials swapped him for an American felon doing time in Canada.
That international prisoner exchange happened sometime between 1994 and 2001. Officials refuse to release any information surrounding the exchange.
Li was serving a 19-year sentence in an undisclosed US prison after being convicted in December 1994 of conspiracy to import or export narcotics, trafficking narcotics, and possession of narcotics for the purpose of trafficking and extortion, said National Parole Board spokesperson Debra Kihari on Tuesday.
Li requested and was allowed to serve the remainder of his time in a Canadian jail through the prisoner-exchange program, Kihari said.
And on February 28, 2001 — after an undisclosed time inside an undisclosed Canadian prison — the parole board held an “accelerated” review of Li.
As a first-time offender, he was entitled to the review.
On March 1, 2001, the board granted Li full parole and released him from prison. He was to avoid drugs until his sentence expired in 2013, according to the decision obtained by the News.
Shortly after that, Li moved to Whitehorse.
And on February 17, Yukon RCMP stopped his cube van on the Alaska Highway and discovered nearly five kilograms of cocaine and 41 kilograms of marijuana.
The Mounties called it the biggest cocaine bust in Yukon history.
Li (who is known to Whitehorse RMCP as Jacob Kwong Sang Lee) is charged with possession of cocaine and possession of marijuana.
His passenger, 48-year-old Frank Yat Fan Tse, of Vancouver, faces the same charges.
Both remain in custody at Whitehorse Correctional Centre until their next court appearance later this month.
Li is a contractor who operates a restaurant in the Gold Rush Inn. He rents the space on a monthly lease.
The reason the parole board gave for releasing Li is simple: he was a first-time convict without a history of violent crime.
The six-page decision notes police found a number of handguns and ammunition in Li’s apartment, a knife in his US prison cell, and that he has a history of heroin abuse and is well connected in the drug smuggling world.
It notes that substance abuse contributed to Li’s criminal behaviour.
But it also states he has no history of violence.
“The law requires that the board consider only information that relates to your risk for committing an offence involving violent behaviour prior to warrant expiry,” reads the decision.
“In your case the criminal record shows that you have never been convicted of an offence involving violence.”
One sentence later, the decision notes: “Of greatest concern is the fact that guns and ammunition were found in your apartment at the time of your arrest for the drug smuggling offences.”
Decisions are based on a sheet called a “schedule one,” which lists violent offences that allow the parole board to stop a prisoner from being released.
Those offences include such crimes as arson, mischief, incest, manslaughter, murder, kidnapping and assault.
Because Li had no convictions from the ‘schedule one,’ he was granted full parole.
The board noted in the decision there were “no reasonable grounds” to believe he would re-offend if released.
Unlike his release from prison, exact details surrounding Li’s transfer from the US into Canada are hard to find.
“The date of a prisoner’s transfer is not information we would ordinarily release,” said Kihara.
She also refused to say where in Canada Li served time in prison, or what type of narcotic he was found with when arrested in the US.
Dennis Finlay, spokesperson for the Pacific region of Corrections Canada, also refused to divulge that information.
“The Privacy Act restricts us from disclosing the whereabouts of any offender,” said Finlay on Tuesday.
“It sounds like I’m copping out, but it’s the law.”
Officials with the Whitehorse parole office were similarly restricted and deferred all questions to Finlay.
Li and Tse are scheduled to appear next in court on March 28.