Macau sees rise in gang activity as ex-triad head 'Broken Tooth' to be freed

Mon, Nov 26, 2012, 00:00

Gambling hot spot Macau is gearing up for the release next month of Wan Kuok-koi, aka Broken Tooth, former head of the notorious 14K triad, amid signs that gang activity is hotting up as his return looms.

This weekend police in the former Portuguese colony arrested five people on suspicion of planning to commit murder, including former policeman Artur Chiang Calderon, a key player in the 14K, local media reported.

Macau, which takes in five times more gambling revenue than Las Vegas, had hoped it had left behind the bad old days of running street battles between rival triad gangs and daylight bomb attacks.

“We are well equipped to handle all situations,” a Macau police spokeswoman said.

Calderon and Broken Tooth were instrumental in the chaos that rocked Macau in the 1990s. Calderon was released after 10½ years in jail, while Wan is due to be freed on December 2nd.

Macau’s return to Chinese rule came in 1999. In the 13 years that Broken Tooth has been away, Macau has been transformed from a sleepy Portuguese colonial backwater into a magnet for mainland Chinese high rollers and global investors.

Macau’s casinos raked in €27 billion last year and this is expected to increase to about €32 billion this year, and the plan is to woo China’s growing middle-class dollars with new integrated resorts.

It is a far cry from the heady days of July 1997, when Broken Tooth’s people sprayed the New Century Hotel on Taipa with machine gun fire during the violent turf war between the triads over casino stakes.

Triad gangs blew up whole rows of cars on a street, there were daylight shoot-outs and chopper attacks.

Broken Tooth’s jailing was seen as a sign the Chinese government would not tolerate triads working in what was about to become its territory.

There have been indications that things could hot up again in Macau. In July, casino backer Ng Man-sun, known as Street Market Wai, was sitting in a restaurant in the New Century Hotel when six men attacked him and an unnamed female companion with hammers.

The attackers avoided hitting Street Market Wai on the head, focusing on his legs and arms, a classic triad warning.

In the same month, two men from Jiangsu province on the mainland were stabbed to death in the luxurious Grand Lapa Hotel. They had racked up big gambling debts and had frantically reached out for a friend to help them find a way out, but they were later found dead after a professional hit.

In August the Macau police launched Operation Thunderbolt, raiding casinos, karaoke rooms, brothels, massage parlours and hotels and arresting 150 people, picking up illegal immigrants from the mainland working as prostitutes, and finding ketamine and other drugs.

These days, the triads are often linked to the money-lending junket operators who bring high rollers to Macau.