Within weeks of his release from a Macau prison built specifically to hold him, triad boss Wan Kuok-koi, whose rise and fall in the 1990s made headlines around the world, was back in the game.
After walking out of jail on Dec 1, 2012, the man better known by his gangland nickname “Broken Tooth’’ — and whose crimes include murder, car-bombing, arms smuggling, money laundering, human trafficking, the leadership of a criminal organisation and racketeering — was able to ease back into “acceptable’’ casino society in Macau.No one was surprised he had returned to his literal old stomping grounds, but how he managed to set himself up as a “legitimate’’ businessman in several Asian countries remained a mystery.
Then, on December 9, 2020, in the middle of simmering Sino-US tensions, Wan found himself in the company of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and others on a list of persons banned by the U.S. Treasury Department as an alleged threat to global order.
Wan was identified as a “corrupt actor” in the move by the US Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), under its enforcement of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
It designated him “a leader of the 14K Triad, one of the largest Chinese organised crime organisations in the world”, and noted the 14K engages in “drug trafficking, illegal gambling, racketeering, human trafficking” as well as “bribery, corruption and graft […] including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gains, and corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources”.
Aside from listing the crimes for which he served jail time in Macau, the US levelled fresh accusations, including that the former gangster “is a member of the Communist Party of China’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference”.
Being in the firing lines of ongoing US-China hostilities is about as “above board” as a convicted gangster could get, and new information obtained by Post Magazine sheds fresh light on how the former 14K triad boss worked his way back into a major casino resort in Macau following his release from prison.
Newer details post-sanctions also show that, as recently as this January, Wan was the subject of allegations that he is closely linked to one of the world’s most-wanted alleged drug barons, Tse Chi Lop. Dubbed the “El Chapo of Asia”, and according to Macau security sources, like Wan, a member of the 14K, Tse has spent a significant amount of time in the city’s casinos in recent years, flying in and out on private jets.
A Canadian national born in China, Tse was arrested in Amsterdam in January and awaits extradition to Australia. He is the suspected head of a vast multinational drug trafficking syndicate known as “The Company’’, an alliance of five of Asia’s triad groups, according to law enforcement officials.
The hunt for 57-year-old Tse, designated Operation Kungur, began in 2019 and involved the authorities in about 20 countries, including the US, Australia, Canada, Myanmar, China, Thailand, and Japan.
“The Company’s members have also been described by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission as having “a well-established network of connections as well as legal business and business networks that allow them to conceal and fund their criminal activities.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Violence reports that the suspected network run by Tse rakes in organized crime amounts from $10 billion to $23 billion a year. Reports in the wake of Tse’s arrest claimed he had gambled away US$85 million over the course of one night.
The Galaxy Casino Resort, owned and run by the Hong Kong stock exchange-listed Galaxy Entertainment Group, is one of the Macau casinos at which Tse is believed to have had a gambling account, the sources said. The latest information gathered by Post Magazine shows that this was the same gaming venue where Broken Tooth made his return to the world of VIP junkets: the shady, lucrative industry of taking in high-rolling gamblers, mostly from mainland China, producing at least 70% of the total gaming revenues of the region.
In response to detailed questions about both men’s links to the city’s gaming industry, and the Galaxy Casino in particular, a spokesman for the office of Macau’s Secretary for Security, Wong Sio-chak, said: “Please be kindly informed that there is no information to be provided regarding your inquiry.’’
Galaxy Entertainment Group had not responded to questions at the time of publication, but perhaps pertinent answers can be found in the past.
In normal times, Broken Tooth’s position as street-fighter-turned-leader of the Macau faction of the 14K would have gone relatively unnoticed. But the 1990s were anything but normal.
As the decade started, in December 1999, the city, which had been controlled for more than 400 years by the Portuguese colonial government, was planning for its return to Chinese sovereignty. In Macau, a city built on gaming, though fever-pitch political worries had fueled jitters about the approach of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover, the main question was who would have enough hard cash as cover if a momentous, once-in-four-centuries case turned sour.
During this time, a deep sense of confusion fueled many years of brutal underworld turf wars among the triad-run VIP junket companies as they struggled to capture as broad a slice of the gangland pie as possible. It was this emotionally charged climate that helped catapult Broken Tooth to criminal renown as he rose through the gangland ranks to finally becoming the leader of the 14K triad’s Macau division, losing a few teeth and gaining his nickname along the way.
The 14K is the second largest triad society in Hong Kong, with an estimated 20,000 members and 30 loosely affiliated subgroups, with tentacles and rituals spreading between its home base in Hong Kong to Macau and Guangdong Province, where it was first founded as a secret society in 1945. Its criminal operations and activities include worldwide drug dealing, money laundering and contract murder.
Wan’s first fortune was allegedly made by running VIP rooms in the casinos of Macau, as well as a series of street-level security and extort rackets that erupted into violent shootings and bombings at times as turf wars escalated with rival gangs. At this time, Wan’s profile was so high that Casino (1998), a Hong Kong-produced film, was made about his life as a triad boss with Simon Yam Tat-wah, one of Hong Kong’s greatest movie stars of the time, playing Wan.
Until May 1, 1998, when a bomb detonated beneath an unoccupied minivan belonging to the larger-than-life Macau police chief, António Marques Baptista, nicknamed ‘Rambo’, Broken Teeth appeared untouchable. Later the same day, Baptista, who died in Portugal in 2018, led a police force to apprehend the gangster as he dined with bodyguards at the original Lisboa Hotel in Macau, on suspicion of being behind the apparent assassination attempt. Wan’s role in the attack on Baptista was never proved in court, but among his many undertakings revealed during the trial was an arms firm in Cambodia, where h
After a long and complex court procedure, and amid the bouts of amnesia striking one witness after another, Wan was sentenced to 15 years in jail in November 1999 and had all his properties seized.
The old enclave has long overtaken Las Vegas as the richest gaming destination in the world today, more than two decades after the return of Macau to China and the liberalization of its gaming industry in 2001.
Broken Teeth was faced with a radically new world following his release from jail in 2012, but one in which he was quick to reactivate his network of contacts. He made his way back to the junkets before long, who remain infamous for their ties to the criminal underworld, establishing himself as an Asian bitcoin leader of sorts, and in August last year he was appointed chairman of Malaysia-based investment firm Inix Technologies Holdings.
He also took up the position as head of an officially sanctioned, Macau-based global Chinese ‘’fraternal’’ organisation, the World Hongmen Historical and Cultural Association.
On Dec 2, 2020, just four months after his appointment as Inix chairman and a week before OFAC slapped him with sanctions, Wan resigned the position “to pursue personal interests’’. On Feb 1, Malaysian authorities made a request to the international police organisation Interpol that Broken Tooth be placed on its global Red Notice arrest list in connection with a fraud investigation.
The OFAC charges and sanction actions went further than alleging Party membership, claiming Broken Tooth “[…] continues a pattern of overseas Chinese actors trying to paper over illegal criminal activities by framing their actions in terms of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the China Dream, or other major initiatives of the CCP”.
These particular allegations linking Wan to key pillars of China’s political and economic development over recent years are denied by both Wan and Beijing, but OFAC also cited Wan’s position as leader of the World Hongmen Historical and Cultural Association as a reason for placing him on the sanctions list, claiming the organisation, despite official registration in Macau, is a triad front.
“Broken Tooth issued a denial of the allegations against him in a video posted on the WeChat social media platform a few days after the US Treasury placed him on the sanctions list: “Regarding the malicious sanctions levied by the US Treasury Department on me and the World Hongmen Historical and Cultural Organization, I solemnly declare: I am a nationalist, a non-CPPCC member. I enjoy a country of my own.
“The World Hongmen History and Culture Association has always abided by laws and regulations, and never under the guise of China’s Belt and Road Initiative engaged in any illegal behaviour […] I express a strong protest against such actions by the US Treasury Department and reserve the right to protect my own rights.”
Business registry records acquired by Post Magazine show that the former triad leader was able to exert power over the Kuok Leng VIP junket business, which existed (although it no longer does) in Macau’s Galaxy Casino, by using a Byzantine network of company filings and members of his family.
A source who has worked in the security departments of a number of Macau casinos over more than a decade, and who asked not to be identified, said: “Following [Wan’s] release from prison in December 2012 none of the casinos in Macau would entertain him, except Galaxy. [Wan] had shares in the Kuok Leng VIP room operating in Galaxy and had lunch at the Laurel Restaurant in the resort almost every day. At this time he was put under surveillance and monitored on the instructions of the Macau police.
“After about a year, he left Macau and his junket room closed. However, in September 2015, he booked 300 hotel rooms at Galaxy to accommodate delegates for a planned convention of the World Hongmen Historical and Cultural Association. The rooms were provisionally held in Galaxy’s Opera booking system. It was only when the Macau Judiciary Police advised Galaxy not to allow the bookings that they were cancelled and the convention did not go ahead in Macau.”
The conference, supposed to be an inaugural event for the group, finally took place in Cambodia, where Broken Tooth has long-standing ties. Many years earlier, Beijing established Macau’s casinos as a significant gateway in the face of serious concerns regarding capital flight from China, and instructed the government to clean up the VIP junkets running in the casinos of the region.
However, according to a veteran legal professional who has been operating in Macau for more than 20 years and has a detailed knowledge of its gaming laws, which are implemented by the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (commonly known by its Portuguese acronym, DICJ), Broken Tooth was able to run a junket service directly or indirectly within one of the three major gaming conc concentrations in the region.
“I am not surprised as the DICJ have never really been any good at vetting junket suitability,” said the source, who asked not to be identified. “As far as I understand it, all that happened was that [Wan] got a visit from some senior security people telling him to back off or at least keep low key.
“Locally, by the Macau authorities themselves, almost nothing was done to improve the ‘regulatory framework’ as it relates to VIP junket operations, apart from some requirements related to anti-money-laundering. The only thing that happened which had any impact was that a clear message was sent from Beijing to put a hold on the issuing of new junket licences and the transfer of existing junket ownership to new names.”
It seems clear that Macau’s industry regulators and gaming license holders also face difficulties in maintaining the suitability and health of individuals running VIP junket businesses within the casinos of the region, which have been synonymous with the forms of money laundering rackets and aggressive debt recovery associated with organized crime for many years.
Broken Tooth’s exact whereabouts are uncertain.
But with Interpol breathing down his neck as a result of an investigation into his Malaysian business activities, connections to a suspected foreign drug baron, and the tightening of US sanctions under an administration that doesn’t want to go easy on China, life on the move for this former mafia boss, once so relaxed in the open, is maybe his biggest gamble yet. As for the future, a purpose-built jail remains awaiting him in Macau.