ON THE TRAIL OF A MULE - A Drug Run Through The Golden Triangle.

Discussion in 'Touring Northern Thailand - Trip Reports Forum' started by Rod Page, Jun 9, 2011.

  1. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    287431=14934-dsc_1141.

    "Unbelievable". Lao Ta has been busted again.
    Former Khun Sa aide arrested, 20kg of ya ice seized

    Former Khun Sa aide arrested, 20kg of ya ice seized

    CHIANG MAI - Lao Ta Saenlee, a former aide to the late drug kingpin Khun Sa, and his son were arrested and 20kg of crystal methamphetamine, or ya ice, and some war weapons seized from them at the family-run petrol station in Mae Ai district on Tuesday. A team of narcotics suppression police apprehended Mr Lao Ta and his son Wicharn Saenlee, former kamnan (sub-district chief) of tambon Tha Ton in Mae Ai district, at Saenlee petrol station in tambon Tha Ton. Seized from them were 20kg of crystal methamphetamine and some weapons, Thai media reported.

    Pol Maj Gen Sommai Kongwisaisuk, acting commissioner of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, later searched Mr Lao Ta’s house. Authorities would seize his assets and extended the investigation.

    Police would take him and his son to the Metropolitan Police Bureau’s Division 6 in Bangkok on Tuesday evening for further questioning.

    Pol Maj Gen Sommai said police were confident that the evidence seized during the police operation would implicate Mr Lao Ta in the drug trafficking and his assets worth about one billion baht would be seized.
    Thai media reports that police had acted as drug buyers to purchase illicit drugs worth 11 million baht from the two suspects. The drugs were delivered at the petrol station on Tuesday morning before police moved in to arrest Mr Lao Ta and his son.

    During the operation, Mr Lao Ta's wife and his 14 aides were also caught.

    Mr Lao Ta, now 79, a former Kuomintang fighter accused of being involved in the illegal trade, denied any involvement in the narcotics trade.

    Jailed for four years as he fought charges of trafficking, attempted murder and illegal possession of weapons, the infamous Lao Ta was released in 2008.

    Like many former Kuomintang soldiers, Lao Ta fought the communist insurgents before being allowed to live in Thailand. He has consistently denied being involved in heroin trafficking although he admitted that he used to trade in opium in the 1970s.

    Mr Lao Ta wielded influence in his village and surrounding hill tribe villages.
    After being released from jail, he ran a new business venture -- his own franchise of Laota Coffee shops in the North.

     
  2. Goran Phuket

    Goran Phuket Ol'Timer

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    Yeah I saw it on TV just now. Back to old habits.
     
  3. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    #78 DavidFL, May 8, 2017
    Last edited: May 8, 2017
    From today's Nation

    The Mekong middlemen running drugs across Asia

    Compared to their ultra-violent Central and Latin American cousins, the drug dealers of Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle use their low-profile to remain beyond the long arm of the law.
    But they control the world's second largest drug producing region, manufacturing and moving meth and heroin out off hidden labs in a remote, mountainous wedge of land that cuts across Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and China.
    A series of recent arrests in Thailand and Laos have shone a rare spotlight on some of the key middlemen pushing product from the Golden Triangle across Asia. Here are a few of them.

    Khonpasong Soukkaseum, a.k.a. Xiengther.
    The flurry of police action started with the arrest of 50-year-old Laotian Khonpasong in early January.
    The was picked up on the way back from a wedding in Laos near the capital Vientiane as a dragnet closed in on drug runners and their associates.
    Laos authorities swiftly seized hotels, cash and cars belonging to a man accused of getting rich on the proceeds of meth, sex venues and illegal casinos.
    Since his arrest, three networks shuttling drugs from Myanmar through Laos, Thailand and onto Malaysia have been hit by raids and arrests.
    Press reports in the tightly-controlled Communist country said officials rejected a $800,000 bribe to release Xiengther and his associates.

    Xaysana Keophimpa -- 'Mr X'
    Heavily built and tattooed, Xaysana -- dubbed "Mr X" by law enforcement officials -- was detained on 19 January while transiting through Bangkok's main airport on his way back home to Laos.
    Thai police arrested him in front of TV cameras and stunned travellers.
    Investigators in Bangkok accuse Xaysana of running a multi-million dollar drug transport network, ferrying meth, ice and ecstasy pills from the Golden Triangle through Thailand to Malaysia and beyond.
    His social media posts pointed to a life of luxury and connections -- photographed alongside Thai "hi-so" (high society) celebrities, at a wedding attended by the daughter of Laos' former prime minister and next to a bevy of supercars.
    Some of those Thai celebs are now being probed for allegedly laundering Xaysana's cash.

    Sisouk Daoheuang
    Fond of riding thoroughbred horses at his stables on the outskirts of the Laos capital Vientiane, Sisouk has an unlikely profile for a man accused of large-scale drug running.
    He is a local Laos celebrity, well-known on the party scene who conducted several television interviews on his love of horses -- including one he bought from America for $25,000.
    He was arrested in early April after cops linked him to Xaysana, partly through his active social media life.
    Sisouk's Facebook profile revealed a penchant for fast cars, which he sold through his garage in the Laos capital, as well as a proclivity for partying -- including with Mr X.
    His garage and stables have been seized.

    Usman Salameang
    A Thai national born in the kingdom's "deep south", Usman is one of the region's most wanted drug men.
    He is accused of being a key player in the drug chain from Laos to Malaysia.
    He has achieved notoriety among drug cops for his ingenuity in avoiding jail, supposedly even faking his own death.
    Canny and connected, he has been linked with several major yaba pill seizures.
    A 2005 raid on a Bangkok house belonging to him saw an SUV impounded. Four years later police who had been using his vehicle found 10 million baht ($290,000) stashed in rear panels in the vehicle.
    Recent police operations may have shaken him from his apparent hideout in Laos, with authorities hinting he could now be in Cambodia, Malaysia or at large in Thailand.

    Tun Hung Seong - 'The Malaysian Iceman'
    A year ago Thai cops seized nearly 300-kilogrammes of crystal meth in the far south.
    Eventually it led them to Thai-based Malaysian Tun Hung Seong, who allegedly headed a network running ice and turning huge drug profits into legitimate businesses.
    He was arrested on April 19 this year at Hat Yai airport in the Thai south where he is accused of acting as a gatekeeper to the Malaysian drug market.
    The drug money was laundered through a series of business, according to Thai cops, including karaoke bars, restaurants, hotels and bars which circulated up to 1 billion baht ($29 million) in narco-profits at any one time.
    Poor old Laos you might think?
    A quote from the Laotian Times
    A multitude of assets and evidence linked to the drug trade have been confiscated including residences, luxury cars, jet-skis, a hotel, a market, a restaurant, various manufacturing plants, warehouses, garages, a gas station, assorted drugs, military guns and many other unnamed possessions.​
    Re Khonpasong vs Xaysana
    Khonpasong is said to be an even bigger player in the drug trafficking world than Xaysana​
    Read the full report here: Multiple Lao Drug Barons Arrested, Millions of Dollars in Assets Seized
     
  4. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

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    Thanks for the update.
    What's been happening along the Thai border, the subject of this thread? In previous years the Thai army has not been sufficiently competent in mountain war-fare so as to wage an effective campaign against traffickers - is this still the position? Are the KMT still involved - on one side or the other? What efforts are being made nowadays to encourage the hill-tribes to farm 'other crops'?
    It does seem that there is no co-incidence on much of the activity cited by David occurring in Laos. Corruption there seems as rife as ever.
     
  5. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    The passing of Olive Yang aged 90, a legendary female drug war lord & wheeler dealer in Myanmar.

    The Female Warlord Who Had C.I.A. Connections and Opium Routes

    21YANG-OBIT-01-facebookJumbo.

    MUSE, Myanmar — She was born to royalty in British colonial Burma, but rejected that life to become a cross-dressing warlord whose C.I.A.-supplied army established opium trade routes across the Golden Triangle. By the time of her death, last week at 90, she had led hundreds of men, endured prison and torture, generated gossip for her relationship with a film actress and, finally, helped forge a truce between ethnic rebels and the government.

    Olive Yang grew up as one of 11 children in an ethnic Chinese family of hereditary rulers of what was then the semiautonomous Shan state of Kokang. According to relatives, she wore boys’ clothes, refused to bind her feet and frequently fell in love with her brothers’ romantic interests.

    Concerned about their unconventional daughter, her parents arranged for her to marry a younger cousin. Shortly after she became pregnant, archives show, she left her husband to pursue a life among opium-trafficking bandits. Her son, Duan Jipu — named for the American jeeps Ms. Yang had seen in the Chinese city of Kunming during World War II — was raised by other family members.

    Ms. Yang’s pursuit of a career as a militia leader and opium smuggler grew in part out of her desperation to escape traditional gender roles, her relatives said. “It was a temptation she couldn’t resist,” wrote her niece Jackie Yang in “House of Yang,” a family history published in 1997.

    By age 25, she commanded hundreds of soldiers guarding caravans of raw opium on mules and trucks across the hills to the Thai border. Those trade routes served what would eventually become the world’s most productive opium-growing region, supplying raw ingredients for the heroin that was trafficked across the United States and Europe.

    Ms. Yang partnered with remnants of the Chinese Nationalist troops who had been defeated by Mao’s Communists but continued to fight from havens in Burma. Intelligence dispatches at the National Archives in Yangon described her as a menace to the peace.

    Scanรูป2-2-2.

    The Nationalist troops had won support from the C.I.A. because of their shared interest in stemming the spread of communism during the early stages of the Cold War. The covert plan, called Operation Paper, included an agreement by which American weapons were airlifted to Southeast Asia using planes owned by the C.I.A., Alfred W. McCoy wrote in his 1972 book, “The Politics of Heroin,’’ as the Nationalists and Ms. Yang’s troops financed their operations through opium sales.

    The C.I.A.-supplied arms found their way into Ms. Yang’s hands in 1952, as documented by the Burmese government in a complaint submitted at the United Nations General Assembly the following year. Ms. Yang’s army was observed traveling across the border to an airfield in Thailand, where an unmarked C-47 aircraft arriving from Taiwan, the seat of the Chinese Nationalist government, was reported to have unloaded weapons.

    Shortly thereafter, Ms. Yang was intercepted by the Burmese authorities while traveling by car from the Thai border with her deputy, Lo Hsing Han. She spent five years in prison in Mandalay, on charges that she helped Chinese Nationalist soldiers illegally cross the border into Burma. It was the first of many imprisonments for Ms. Yang and Mr. Lo.

    Mr. Lo would go on to earn the designation “kingpin of the heroin traffic in Southeast Asia,” by United States drug enforcement officials, after striking a deal with the Burmese military government that allowed him to resume trading in opium in return for assisting government forces against rebel forces.

    After her older brother Edward abdicated in 1959, along with dozens of other hereditary rulers in Shan state, Ms. Yang took control of his former army, becoming the de facto ruler of the territory. She also, according to her relatives, entered into a relationship with a Burmese movie actress, Wah Wah Win Shwe, lavishing her with gifts and adding her name to the deed of her house in Yangon.

    IMG_2926.

    Ms. Yang’s family considered them a couple, though in an interview in 2015, Ms. Win Shwe, who still lived in a house on Ms. Yang’s former property, denied an affair. In any case, the arrangement came to an abrupt end in 1963, when Ms. Yang was arrested by police officials under Gen. Ne Win, who had seized power in Burma the year before. She spent six years in Yangon’s Insein Prison, where she reportedly endured torture.



    Her career took another turn in 1989, when she was in her 60s. Retired as a warlord but respected among the ethnic rebel groups, Ms. Yang was recruited by the Burmese government’s chief of intelligence, Khin Nyunt, along with her former colleague Mr. Lo, to help negotiate peace agreements for the government. The agreement struck with Ms. Yang’s distant relative Peng Jiasheng and his Kokang rebel force, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, largely held until new fighting broke out in 2009.

    Confined to a wheelchair, Ms. Yang spent her twilight years in relative obscurity, living in the care of her stepson and his militiamen in a compound in Muse. Visited there not long after she had a stroke in 2015, Ms. Yang said she was happy to be living surrounded by deferential soldiers. When shown a photograph of Ms. Win Shwe at her home, Ms. Yang responded with a knowing smile and a devilish laugh. With a Chinese cigarette in her hand, she said, “That whole property was mine.”

    DE7iFTPV0AA8pz_.

    Ms. Yang, who died on July 13, is survived by two younger sisters and her son. None of her immediate relatives remain in Kokang. Ms. Yang’s eventual tomb, built for her with the help of one of her former soldiers, stands near Muse, just outside Kokang.

    “It’s very sad for all of Kokang,” said the former soldier, Liu Guoxi, reached by phone as he was preparing for the funeral. “We have all come to say farewell to our leader.”
    Source: New York Times & Coconuts Bangkok.


    Olive Yang: the Drug Lord Known as Miss Hairy Legs

    Olive Yang—also known as Yang Kyin Hsiu, nicknamed Miss Hairy Legs—was the half-sister of Sao Edward Yang Kyein Tsai, the saopha (chief) of Kokang, a state in post-independent Burma from 1949 to 1959. She was born in 1927 and received an education at Lashio's Guardian Angel's Convent School. Described as a "bisexual warlady by the historian Thant Myint-U, she developed a tough reputation while still at convent school, where she was rumored to carry a revolver in her handbag. At the age of 19, she organized ethnic Kokang forces, nicknamed the Olive's Boys, an army of over a thousand soldiers and consolidated control of opium trade routes from the highlands to lowlands. She dominated Kokang's opium trade from the end of World War II to the early 1960s. In the 1950s, after the Nationalist defeat and their subsequent expulsion from mainland China, she partnered with the Kuomintang to establish opium trade routes along the Golden Triangle. [Source: Wikipedia,Thant Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps, Macmillan, 2008, pp. 298–299. +]

    From 1948 to 1950, she was married to Twan Sao Wen, the son of Tamaing's chieftain, and had a son, Duan Jipu, in 1950. Her son is a teacher in Chiang Mai, Thailand. From the 1950s to the mid-1960s, she was the commander of the Kokang Kakweye (People's Defense Forces). She was a prominent figure in opium trafficking and gold trading. She was arrested in 1962, along with her brother Jimmy, a member of parliament in Yangon, by Burmese authorities, to remove them from power and place Kokang territory under Burmese administration. She was imprisoned at Insein Prison and released in 1968. +

    Yang was known to be a bisexual who carried on affairs with film actresses and singers, including Wa Wa Win Shwe. In the late 1980s, she was recruited by Khin Nyunt to help broker ceasefires in Burma with ethnic rebel groups. After her release, she reportedly spent her final years as a nun. Today she lives on University Avenue Road in Yangon.
    Source: Facts & Details.


     
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  6. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

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    The drug trade & this wonderful corner of SE Asia in which we are all privileged to ride does have a good number of great & very colourful characters, & amongst the greatest of them all is surely Olive Yang.

    Olive added greatly to my understanding, & most certainly enjoyment, of a deep & rich history filled with stories of adventure & of intrigue. May she rest in peace.
     
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  7. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    #82 DavidFL, Jan 31, 2018
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2018
    US sanctions Laos-based 'criminal organisation'

    The US Treasury Department early Wednesday announced sanctions against four men and a group of companies allegedly linked to drug and human trafficking throughout the region.
    A press release by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control said the sanctions revolved around a group based in Hong Kong and Chiang Saen district of Chiang Rai, the Kings Romans Company, a casino operator.
    The company operates a well known casino in Laos and has operations in Hong Kong,
    Laos, Myanmar and China, as well as Thailand, according to the sanctions list.

    (See infographic below)
    2634754.

    The Kings Romans Casino is a hotel and gambling site in Laos, clearly visible from the Thailand side of the Mekong River at the Golden Triangle. Owned by Hong Kong-based Kings Romans Group, the casino claims to cater mostly to Chinese tourists.

    Previous press reports have claimed that the casino operates in a "lawless playground". The four people and the companies may have knowledge of in international criminal activities including drug and human trafficking, the US press release alleged.
    The four sanctioned people, who are barred from doing business in the US, or with US companies or citizens are
    Abbas "Basu" Eberahim, 29, an Australian whose residences are listed as Kooringal in Australia, Chiang Saen in Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in southern Laos.
    Thai national Nat Rungtawankhiri aka Rungtawankeeree, aged 41, a resident of Mae Fah Luang district,Chiang Rai.
    Guiqin Su aka Zhao Su or Madame Su,69, a Hong Kong resident with Chinese nationality. She is the wife of Zhao Wei aka Chio Wei aka Thanchai Saechou, 66, a dual Chinese-Macau national.
    The US claims the four are members of "the Zhao Wei translational criminal organisation" (TCO).

    "Based in Laos within the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GTSEZ), the Zhao Wei TCO exploits this region by engaging in drug trafficking,human trafficking, money laundering, bribery, and wildlife trafficking," the US announcement alleged.
    "All assets of those designated that are under US jurisdiction are frozen, and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them," it said.
    The US alleged that the group's front is the Kings Romans Casino in Laos, which it uses as a headquarters and money laundering aid.
    "Operating largely through the Kings Roman Casino, the Zhao Wei TCO facilitates the storage and distribution of heroin, methamphetamine, and other narcotics for illicit networks, including the United Wa State Army, operating in neighbouring Burma," said the sanctions announcement.
    "Since 2014,Thai, Lao, and Chinese authorities have seized large narcotics shipments that have been traced to the Kings Romans Casino."​


    Source: The Bangkok Post 31 January 2018.
     
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  8. Eoin Christie

    Eoin Christie Ol'Timer

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    What an excellent thread!
    On a disgracefully digressing tangent, back in the 1990's I worked up in the tribal areas of Pakistan's NWFP / Afghanistan. This area was under full control of the warlords / Mujahideen. Working up across the mountains of Hindukush, I would often encounter camel and donkey caravans hauling plant-based extracts across to the refineries, which were in fortified villages throughout the region.

    It was a very interesting place, and the people were always extremely good to me. The military could not enter the tribal regions, those Tribals having successfully ousted Alexander the Great, the British, the Russians, and anyone else who came in with new rules and regulations. In some areas I was required to be out before nightfall, but a few times got stuck, getting to witness the nightly firefights between the villages, with rockets and tracer fire lighting the way.

    This piece may interest Jurgen, harking back to his film days - I had pretty much parked the memories in the hazy past, when I came across a couple of old undeveloped films in a box that had moved with our family from house to house. Not knowing what they were (I didn't even remember taking a camera with me on that venture), I stand-developed them to see if there were any images. One film came out blank, but the other had extremely high contrast shots from back in the 'kush. Being a [email protected]#$3, I'd used 20 ASA copy film that I got cheap in bulk. It amazed me that ~28 years after shooting the film, and it having been totally mistreated in the interim, there was anything salvageable:
    30024325925_22e4a2b96b_k. B006 by Eoin Christie, on Flickr

    29911114002_cf3e3de2fc_k. B007 by Eoin Christie, on Flickr

    29941267141_e09c78db39_k. B008 by Eoin Christie, on Flickr

    ...and the obligatory selfie...
    29393932664_5f52b22b4d_k. B005 by Eoin Christie, on Flickr

    Back on topic - Isn't it amazing the extent to which the small border villages can somehow 'roll with the punches', and manage to maintain some semblance of normality whilst the Wild West goes on around and through them? The exception, of course, is when they get displaced, and somehow have to try to piece together a new living, divorced from their lands and all that they have known.

    Isn't it also intriguing, how greed, and power, and 'leadership' all seem to combine into some kind of shape-shifting semblance, allowing individuals to go from hero to zero and back to hero again in short order. How they are viewed seems to shift with the perspective of the viewer, and 'means-justifies-ends' filters.

    I'm planning on heading up from Houayxai to Xiengkok in October, and was hoping to take the riverside trail, rather than direct via Muang Meung. It may not be the smartest move, but I'm currently basking in naivety. Although everyone seems to have a rather poor image of Xiengkok, I actually liked it last time I was there - Simple, with a hint of plenty of undercurrents that one should not get involved in.
     
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  9. canthai

    canthai Ol'Timer

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    Just came across this -
    Now we can put a face to Khun Sa
     
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  10. Eoin Christie

    Eoin Christie Ol'Timer

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  11. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator
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    A recent, interesting informative report on the Wa Drug dealer Wei Hsueh-kang & the immense wealth & power he has in the region.


    Shadowy Drug Lord Wei Hsueh-kang’s Influence Still Felt in Myanmar’s Wa Region and Beyond

    By Aung Zaw 9 March 2020

    His Burmese name is U Sein Win, though he doesn’t speak Burmese. His primary language is Chinese—a colloquial, unpolished variety of the Yunnan dialect.

    One of Southeast Asia’s most notorious drug lords, he has spent the past decade lying low somewhere along the Myanmar-China border. And he recently held a meeting with Myanmar officials in Kunming, China.

    Wei Hsueh-kang (as he is more commonly referred to), now in his 70s, may be shadowy, but he is far from unknown to the powers that be in Myanmar and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Speaking through an interpreter, the fugitive drug lord, who presides over a vast business empire, asked Myanmar peace officials in December to convey to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi an invitation to visit Panghsang, the headquarters of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in the Wa Self-Administered Zone in northern Shan State.

    He also promised the Myanmar delegates that a peace deal could be agreed between the central government and the Wa leaders if the State Counselor accepted the invitation and visited the Wa region. Surprised to see him sitting in the room together with the other top Wa leaders, the Myanmar peace negotiators said his unexpected presence made for an awkward meeting, adding that his authority could clearly be felt in the room. They noticed that Bao Youyi, the No. 2 in the UWSA leadership, politely prepared a chair for Wei, a sign of his influence and status as a member of the UWSA’s politburo.

    Recalling the conversation and the body language of those in the room, one of the officials from Naypyitaw later noted, “Wei Hsueh-kang holds the key [in Wa region].” Moreover, the Myanmar delegates learned that Wei likes to stay up-to-date on economic issues—he raised the subject of Myanmar’s currency crisis last year—as well as developments in the peace process.

    Before the Myanmar officials left the room, Wei made sure that his invitation to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was understood, and promised that a peace deal could be reached.

    Commenting on Wei’s influence over the UWSA, one seasoned Shan observer remarked with a chuckle, “He has a remote control.”

    It has been speculated that the Wa want to strike their own bilateral peace deal with the government and military in Naypyitaw, a thought that leaves many groups on the northern border with China—the Wa’s allies and rivals alike—anxious.

    The Wa and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are the most powerful armed groups in the north, and key players in the peace process, but regard each other with suspicion.

    If the Wa were to enter a peace deal with the Myanmar government, the ethnic coalition in the north could collapse. The Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) comprises seven members: the UWSA, KIA, National Democratic Alliance Army, Shan State Progressive Party, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Arakan Army. The Wa is the most powerful among them.

    The Wei brothers

    Wei is the most prominent of three brothers. The eldest, Hsueh-long, is believed to have retired, leaving only Hsueh-kang and Hsueh-yin still active.

    According to veteran journalist Bertil Lintner, who has written several books on Myanmar and the illicit trade in Shan State, the Wei brothers “were engaged in both espionage and opium trading.”

    The Wei brothers were connected with the Kuomintang-CIA spy network along the Yunnan frontier until the Burmese communists drove them out in the 1970s, Lintner notes in his book “Burma In Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948.”

    Wei Hsueh-kang subsequently joined the late drug lord Khun Sa’s Mong Tai Army (MTA), and apparently became treasurer to Khun Sa, who would later briefly detain Wei.

    After being released by Khun Sa, Wei fled to Thailand and later traveled to Taiwan. In Thailand, after splitting with Khun Sa, he and his brothers set up a heroin empire along the Thai border with Myanmar and made a fortune. He was also allegedly involved in killing some of Khun Sa’s men in a revenge hit in northern Thailand.

    In 1986, Wei was arrested and detained in Thailand. He was sentenced to death but managed to escape and never returned to the country. In Thai he is known as Prasit Chiwinnitipanya, but his Thai nationality was eventually revoked. Since 1993, the US has offered a US$2 million (2.7 billion kyats, at today’s rate) bounty for information leading to his capture or death, as a heroin trafficker.

    In 1989, when the Wa rebels reached a ceasefire deal with the Myanmar junta, then known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), Wei returned to Panghsang. He bankrolled the Wa leadership, who at that time were cash-strapped and looking for assistance to rebuild the Wa region and their army, to the tune of several million dollars.

    Indeed, Wei was one of the founders of the UWSA and became one of its most prominent politburo members. One seasoned observer described him as the Wa’s “ATM machine”.

    At one time, Wei served as a commander in the UWSA and helped Myanmar troops to attack the stronghold of Khun Sa, who finally surrendered to the junta in 1996. Wei was allowed to take control of that MTA area.

    In any case, the truce with the regime gave the Wa and other ethnic militias operating in the area, including Kokang insurgents, the opportunity to develop one of the largest drug-running operations in Southeast Asia.

    The Myanmar military’s spy intelligence agency issued ID cards for Wa leaders but also provided protection for drug lords. “It is clear that the drug lords in the northeast are enjoying protection from the highest level of Burma’s military establishment, and not just from some corrupt local commanders,” Lintner wrote.

    Business empire

    In 1998, nine years after the Wa leaders signed a truce with the SLORC, Wei founded the Hong Pang Group based in Panghsang with revenues from the drug trade.

    The company invested in construction, agriculture, gems and minerals, petroleum, electronics and communications, distilleries and department stores. Hong Pang Group opened offices in Yangon, Mandalay, Lashio, Tachilek and Mawlamyine. Hong Pang in fact served as the UWSA’s commercial wing, growing into not only one of the biggest conglomerates in Myanmar, but also one of the biggest money-laundering operations in Southeast Asia.

    Hong Pang’s numerous subsidiaries run gem, jewelry and mining companies in Shan and Kachin states, as well as overseas, particularly in Hong Kong. The Hong Pang mining company is still listed on the US Treasury Department’s list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers.

    In 2012, the group was renamed Thawda Win Co. Ltd, and it remains involved in several projects in Myanmar. The company’s income also supports the UWSA’s operations in Panghsang. One of the projects currently being undertaken by the company is the Taung Gyi-Meikktila-Tachilek Highway.

    Other businesses run by Wa leaders and tycoons include banks and airlines. The US Treasury designated Myanmar May Flower Bank, founded in 1994, as a primary money-laundering concern and government authorities revoked the bank’s license in 2005 following a laundering probe. Drug traffickers close to the UWSA also acquired Yangon Airways. The carrier was placed on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list compiled by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

    A Global Witness investigative report published in 2015 revealed how the families of notorious figures including former dictators and ministers in the former government are major players in the jade trade.

    According to the Global Witness report, “US-sanctioned drug lord Wei Hsueh Kang plays a dominant role through a web of front companies, while Myanmar’s army is helping itself to a gigantic slice of the pie via its own conglomerates and an elaborate extortion racket run by officers in Kachin State.”

    Global Witness put the value of Myanmar’s jade production as high as US$31 billion in 2014 alone. This figure equates to nearly half of the entire country’s GDP, and over 46 times national spending on health, yet the local population sees little benefit.

    It said, “Wei is the architect of a methamphetamine epidemic that has ripped through Southeast Asia, and is the subject of sanctions and a US$2 million bounty from the US government.”

    Knowing that he is wanted by the US and Thailand, Wei spends most of his time in China and along the Myanmar border. He doesn’t allow his photos to be published; books published last year to commemorate the Wa’s 30th anniversary do not contain any images of him.

    Top Wa leaders including UWSA chairman Bao Youxiang maintain warm relations with Wei, but Wa commanders in the north are known to dislike him. That may be the reason he doesn’t spend much time at Wa headquarters.

    His influence stretches beyond Panghsang; Wei has set up businesses in China and has some political sway in Beijing. Wa sources in Panghsang told The Irrawaddy that Wei has strong connections with a number of senior Chinese officials; among those with whom has been linked in the past are Zhou Yongkang, a former senior leader of the Communist Party of China who in 2015 was sacked and convicted of a series of corruption charges including bribery and abuse of power, and sentenced to death. Zhou also served as head of China’s security services including police, paramilitary and intelligence organs known to Wei.

    During his heyday, Wei managed to buy weapons and ammunition from his friendly Chinese source. Informed sources said that until five years ago, when Zhou was removed from office, the Wa had received over 2,000 truckloads of military hardware and ammunition from China.

    While it is anyone’s guess precisely how much wealth Wei has amassed from illicit and other businesses, he is unquestionably a member of Southeast Asia’s club of undeclared billionaire drug lord/tycoons.

    Source Irrawaddy 20 Mach 2020.
     
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