The Shan Rebellion - Sapphire Mines & Patpong Scams


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Looking back at an old trip report for Phrae & a visit to the old Phrae governor’s house / museum, the history of the Shan rebellion came up.

The Free Thai / Seri Thai Museum - Phrae

In the earlier days there were many Shan people in North Thailand, imported from Burma, & working for the British logging companies.

The Shan first started moving into North Thailand & Laos in the 1880s when there was turmoil in the Shan states between rival groups.

They were a significant presence in Chiang Saen & Chiang Khong competing for power with the local rulers of the day, that often involved skirmishes & battles.

In 1890 one of the important places they moved to was Houei Xai & started the sapphire mining there. The Shan also worked in a gem mine near Phrae, where they also had issues & the Shan rebellion in North Thailand originated from a dispute here. The rebellion was eventually crushed & there is a memorial to a Danish Captain who led the Thai forces defeating the Shan in the final battle just south of Phayao.

The Capt Hans Jensen Memorial

Today the sapphire mines at Houei Xai are a multi-million dollar business, but on the way there has been considerable intrigue & a bit of skullduggery involved over the decades.

Here’s a story worth reading

Laos Sapphire Mines • A History

The land-locked country of Laos lies sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam. Largely mountainous, much of Laos remains untouched by the outside world. But this is quickly changing. The country once known as the Land of a Million Elephants is today a major producer of copper and gold… and now sapphires.

History of the mines

In 1890,[5] Shan diggers from Burma discovered nin (black spinel, an accessory mineral of corundum) at Chiang Khong, (Huay Xai), which lies just across the Mekong river from Thailand, in Laos. With typical patience they carefully prospected the area and eventually found sapphires.

The best account of the discovery of sapphire at Huay Xai is that of Herbert Warington Smyth (b. 1867; d. 1943). Then in the employ of the Siam Department of Mines, Smyth was sent by the Thai King to report on the newly discovered gem deposits at Chiang Khong, arriving at the mines in February 1893:

The gem-bearing gravel is not found until several basalt sheets are encountered below Nam Ngau, a largish tributary flowing in from the north. The hills on the left bank then become lower and more distant, and these, consisting of a dark crystalline rock, the exact mineralogical character of which has not yet been determined, seem to be the source of all the stone-bearing gravels which are found deposited in the streams flowing from them. The average thickness of the gravel is 5 to 20 inches, and consists of quartz and fragments of the crystalline rock above mentioned. The overburden is a reddish clay soil of an average depth of 10 feet, through which the Burmese, who are found wherever there are gems, sink large pits some 10 feet square. A sharpened bamboo will be often first driven down to ascertain if the gravel underlies the spot, it having been found very capricious.

Explorations were made in the neighbourhood for many years before—about two years ago—the first paying gravel was found; the Burmese relying all the time on the presence of what is known as nin, small black stones which have turned out to be black spinel, and are always to be found in close proximity to the sapphire. When washing gravel in a stream these little water-worn crystals are found; it will only need industry and time to find the gem gravel, which will be somewhere near, although in part perhaps denuded away. The nin have been followed for years, and now there are over two hundred men reaping the reward of their indefatigable patience. I found nin and struck gravel in all the streams flowing in on the left bank between Nam Ngau and Hoay Pakham, which is the main scene of the operations at present, and lies about 1 mile below Chieng Kong. On the right bank there are apparently no signs whatever, except at Hoay Duk, a stream exactly opposite Hoay Pakham; but only a few nin are to be seen here, and there is no water for washing purposes. East and north of Hoay Pakham, again, are half a dozen more streams flowing, from that side of the range I have spoken of as the source of the gravel, into the Nam Hau, which eventually reaches the Mekong. Some of these have been found to be rich, and on one the Burmese built their bamboo villages and made their clearings; but after a fortnight's work the places were abandoned as being terribly unhealthy, sunk deep in the jungle valleys, and very difficult to get stores to….

With regard to the rubies I had expected to find, from my own observation, and subsequently from conversation with the diggers, I soon saw that not only have none been ever found, but none of the signs of the ruby as known at Chantabun or in Burma have been seen. A Siamese official who had been sent here a year ago by the Government to test and report on the place, seeing some small garnets, thought they must be rubies, and thinking to advance himself at head-quarters, bought a very fine Burmese ruby for 70 Rs., and sent it down with his report as having been found in Chieng Kong! From this, of course, very large hopes of the character of the find had been entertained: I fear now he is somewhat in disgrace.

H. Warington Smyth, 1895, Notes of a Journey on the Upper Mekong, Siam​

While the occurrence at Huay Xai has been known since the 1890s, due to the small size of the gems recovered, the promise was never fully realized. Little serious mining occurred until the 1960s. Like many another sapphire mine, modern heat treatments make salable what was once too cloudy or dark. Thus the 1970s and 1980s saw a small-scale revival of sapphire mining at Huay Xai.

Since the 1960's, a variety of companies have rolled the dice, including Czechs, Koreans and Thais, with one French miner even diving into a sinkhole in the nearby Mekong River to recover gems. But most Lao sapphires were small, and with larger blue heated geuda sapphires from Ceylon flooding the market, little attention was paid to the Lao stone.

In 1994, Bjarne Jeppesen and his wife, Julie Bruns, founded Gem Mining Lao PDR (GML) with Lao-born American, Somkhit Vilavong. They were granted a 15-year concession from the Lao government to mine at Huay Xai. But this was to be a star-crossed venture, one that ended with Jeppesen and his wife fleeing the country amidst charges of embezzlement. His caretakers, Kerry and Kay Danes, were later arrested in a high-profile case that nearly caused a break in diplomatic relations between Laos and Australia (they were eventually released) (Hughes, 2002). In 2000, the Lao Government terminated GML’s mining concession and then nationalized GML’s sapphire mines.

Lao Sapphire • Max Green, Ted Doyle, Gary Shugg • Looted Millions • Love & Hate

From outside, the Madrid Bar looks no different than any other watering hole on Bangkok's Patpong Road. But step inside and one enters a dark world of societal misfits, heat-seeking mercenaries, out-and-out spooks and the merely semi-diaphanous. If you wanted to make an in-depth tour of the bars and bordellos of Thailand, any of the Madrid regulars would make a perfect guide.

The Madrid was that kind of place. You couldn't stay too long without losing a few brain cells. And if you did leave with halo intact, you had no business being there. But no matter how twisted, how crazy the night became, regulars knew the drill – never drop your guard. With feline or friend, never forget to feel for the Adam's apple.

In 1995, Ted Doyle was just one among many Madrid raconteurs. Each with a song about the Cong. But Teddy was different. He was a man with a mission – helping Melbourne lawyer Max Green launder millions from a looted trust fund account – and in the process, helping himself to a quid or two, too.

That night, Doyle took a seat at the Madrid bar, next to American gem dealer, Joseph Schall. The bearish Doyle naturally attracted attention, with "Love" tattooed on the knuckles of one hand and "Hate" on the other. And just to reinforce the image, a 25-ct. sapphire watched his back from a ring on one finger. It was that sparkle that caught Schall's eye. "Nice Ceylon," Schall remarked. Without a word, Doyle yanked the ring off and slid it down the bar. Over the course of a few drinks, Schall explained he had an office in one of Bangkok's biggest gem houses and the pair made a date to meet the next day.

And show he did – with plenty of dough. Over the next few months, Doyle was a regular, plucking out one fine gem after another, but always paying in cash installments of US$50–75,000 each.

Eventually, the odor of Doyle's money reached stench level. It wasn't as though Schall didn't want to sell to Doyle, but having been in the business for years, the situation reeked of money laundering. And so Schall stepped back, watching to see what would happen next.

A replacement was not long in coming. In November 1995, Doyle ran into Lee Wolf.

Understand. Doyle never lacked for lip. But over the course of the next five hours, he was reduced to nods and monosylabic grunts as Wolf waxed ecstatic on how he, with his fluent Thai, held the key to Bangkok's gem kingdom. Doyle swallowed it whole – hook, line, sinker – and angler's elbow.

Thus it happened. Amidst the Patpong banter of building bank accounts for distressed damsels, the ill-fated duo of Doyle and Wolf parried the Jesus of all gem deals. Within just two short years, US$20 million of Max Green's money would wash across their palms – some flowing up to Laos, all ebbing back out again – like a mekong whisky-nam-soda mix – pissed slowly out to sea. And as that water reached Phnom Penh, it blended with the blood of Max Green's lifeless body. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Max's millions

Just who was Max Green? Here was a man with the moxie to loot millions from a trust account, but so ordinary looking that he couldn't have attracted the attention of a good waiter in a good restaurant. Perhaps that was his secret. Nobody ever dreamed he could do what he did.

Green was born in 1952, growing up in Sydney, Australia. He graduated from law school and in 1976 moved to Melbourne, where he took a job as solicitor in a respected law firm. That same year, he married Louise Giselle Baron, daughter of a wealthy Melbourne property developer. 1981 saw him join the board at the fashion jewelry company, Emma Page. By 1984, he had left the bar and taken a full-time position at Emma Page. 1985–89 were spent in Austin, Texas, handling the company's US operations.

Upon returning to Melbourne, Green went back to practicing law. On 1 April, 1991, Max was brought in as a partner at the private law firm of Gary Vernon Shugg. In 1992, Shugg also hired Ted Doyle, whom he had met years earlier, to develop a computer system.

Doyle allegedly brought in another associate, Alex Hoffman. In 1994, Hoffman opened a Kiev office for Shugg & Green, but in November 1995, was arrested amidst allegations of money laundering, document fraud and arms smuggling, with some of the weapons heading for Cambodia. The workings of the Kiev office remain a mystery to this day. While Hoffman was later acquitted, one witness told police: "The idea was quite clear that [the office] was to attract clients for money-laundering purposes."

Shrug and Grin

The august firm of Shugg & Green was not long for this world. In July 1995, Shugg was found guilty of 17 counts of misuse of clients' funds and disbarred for five years. The company was placed into receivership with debts of A$2 million. Shugg later set up business in London. Max Green was never charged. Shugg later told an associate he had "gone patsy for Green."

The "beaut" project

Shortly after the demise of Shugg & Green, Max learned from his brother, Phillip, of a loophole in Australian tax law that allowed inexpensive equipment purchases to be entirely depreciated in the first year. And so he pitched a scheme whereby investors would buy such equipment and lease it to Melbourne's City Link tollway project. For every dollar invested, a further $4 would be borrowed from a Hong Kong finance company, allowing investors to claim 100% of the interest payments as a tax deduction. The suggested result was that investors would recoup in both profit and tax advantages well in excess of 15% of their original investment each year. This caused one to declare: "It looks like a beaut!" More than A$42 million was eventually sunk into the scheme.

Clients' money was placed into a trust fund. But Green secretly moved the dough into another account he controlled. From there, funds were transferred abroad to accounts in the Bahamas, the Isle of Man, Liechtenstein, etc., a veritable who's who of financial tomfoolery. To hide his tracks, Green paid interest into the trust fund, while producing forged documents that showed "purchase" of construction equipment.

Over $10 million headed straight into the Bangkok accounts of Lee Wolf. Some believe Doyle's name was not used on the transfers because his name was in police databases worldwide.

Mud from a stone

Doyle later claimed that Green spent US$20 million on gems, stones that Doyle said were later sold by Max in Israel. But no trace of either the money or Green's gem sales in Israel has ever been found.

The operation could have gone something like this: a few million in illegal cash is sent to Thailand for the purchase of gems. But since gems are not liquid assets, most likely the quid pro quo was for the newly purchased gems to be bought back after a decent interval, perhaps by a third-party cutout seemingly unconnected to the original seller, with a small percentage as the trade. Say $1,000,000 in gems is sold to the moneyman, and later sold back for $800,000, the difference being the "rental fee" for the period between their sale and the buyback. The seller is happy, with a nice percentage for the rental. The moneyman is also happy, since his money is now seemingly clean and can be moved abroad without fear.

Ted Doyle

Trevor John "Ted" Doyle was born in 1946 in Melbourne, Australia. At age 17, he joined the Australian Army, where he was reputedly a member of the elite Special Air Service (SAS). While in the army, he claimed his duties included spying on Vietnam War protesters. He also acquired a taste for heroin, which eventually led to his imprisonment and military discharge in 1966.

Ted Doyle continued to raise police attention. His photograph and fingerprints were first posted with Interpol in 1969. In 1974, Doyle left Perth for Bali, learning the local language and eventually marrying the daughter of a high-ranking Indonesian general, a connection that he later used in his attempts at gem dealing. By 1977 Doyle was back in Melbourne, and later reported destitute in Europe, where he contacted the Australian embassy for repatriation. He was also placed on a watch list because of his habit of losing his passport.

Back in Australia, he got into journalism, working on a variety of papers, including The Age, the Melbourne Times, and ABC radio. 1985–86 saw him working for smaller papers. At some point in the 1980's, he ran into lawyer Gary Shugg. Shugg led to Green, and after that, nothing was ever the same.

…and the Wolf Man

Lee Wolf

Lee Wolf was born in 1956 and grew up on a farm in Clifton, Texas. After graduating high school, he became a hard-hat diver, first in the Gulf of Mexico, then in Singapore and the Gulf of Thailand. His diving ceased following a severe case of the bends. By the early 1980's, he was in Bangkok, enrolled in a strict six-month Thai language course operated mostly for Christian missionaries. Although the Thai language training was to come in handy later on, Lee was never again known to associate with missionaries.

In the mid-1980's, Wolf's cousin asked him to be the Thai agent for his jewelry business. This led to the establishment of Pacific East Trading Co. in 1986. But the company did little until Max Green and Ted Doyle entered the picture.

Let the good times roll

When Max's millions hit Bangkok, Doyle and Wolf quaffed life from a Maxie-sized mug. The bell at the Madrid never stopped ringing. Not only did they buy rounds for the entire bar, but the pair thought nothing of spending US$10,000 a night to hire an entire Patpong nightspot in which to entertain friends. So easy was the money that one time, US$50,000 cash literally spilled out of a hole in Teddy Doyle's suit coat pocket as he hopped on the back of a motorbike.

Sources reported that once when a safe was opened at Pacific East Trading Co., it contained a bundle of US$100 bills the size of a small television. Doyle allegedly received parcels from Max Green containing travelers' checks from a Melbourne travel company. One contained $49,400 in 257 checks, wrapped in bundles of $5000. Each bundle had a different name on the checks. Doyle allegedly signed each check twice and then cashed them at a local bank. But giving money to Teddy Doyle was like asking a rabbit to deliver a carrot. There was bound to be a bit of nibbling along the way.

In April 1997, Doyle and Wolf set up Gem Houses of Asia to spend Green's cash. At a presentation at Bangkok's exclusive Oriental Hotel, they outlined plans to create a market niche for black and boulder opals. The project involved a cutting factory in Khao Yai. On one occasion, Australian police say, an Australian opal company brought opals worth millions for an exhibition to their Bangkok shop, staffed by bar girls as assistants. Along with so many other projects, funding for this dried up shortly after Max Green's death. The duo was also involved in high-profile charity events in Thailand.

Pandora's jewel box

Someone once described a mine as "a hole in the ground owned by a liar." That certainly applies to the Huay Xai mine in Laos, for these backwater sapphire diggings have had a troubled history indeed.

Lying along the Mekong River, the Lao mines were first discovered in 1890. Along with small dark blue gems, red garnets were also found. Taking them to be rubies, a Thai official went out and bought the best ruby he could find. This he sent to the Thai king, with a note saying it came from Huay Xai. Alas, the deception was eventually discovered; his fate is not recorded.

Flash forward a few decades. Since the 1960's, a variety of companies have rolled the dice at Huay Xai, including Czechs and Thais, with one French miner even diving into a sinkhole in the nearby Mekong River to recover gems. But most Lao sapphires were small, and with bright blue heated geuda sapphires from Ceylon flooding the market, little attention was paid to the Lao stone.mine definition

In 1994, Bjarne Jeppesen and his wife, New Zealand national, Julie Bruns, founded Gem Mining Lao PDR (GML) with Lao-born American, Somkhit Vilavong. They were granted a 15-year concession from the Lao government to mine at Huay Xai. Until then, Jeppesen, a Danish citizen, had had a career as a builder in northern Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG), along with stints hunting crocodiles and chartering ships. His experience with mining was limited to a brief go at gold mining in PNG, and poking for amethyst in southern Laos.

I first visited Huay Xai in 1996. Taking a small boat across the Mekong from Chiang Khong in Thailand, I hired a trishaw out to the mines, a few kilometers south of town. Along the way, my driver related that a farang (foreigner) was operating the mine. However, locals didn't like the situation much, since they had lived on the land for generations, but were now not permitted to work it.

My arrival at the mines was greeted by suspicion. Jeppesen was on site, and not the least bit happy I was taking pictures. But after a short chat, he accepted my academic credentials and agreed to show me around, explaining that they were just doing test diggings and would have a full processing plant up shortly. As I returned to town, I thought about Jeppesen's paranoia. This was certainly a curious sapphire mine.

Back in town, one answer was waiting. The manager of the small hotel where I was staying offered to sell me sapphire, and the next morning laid a few kilos of rough out on the table. This was obviously not GML's official sales arm. The material may have been poached by locals digging illegally on the concession property. More likely, it was stolen by someone working at the mine.

June 1997 saw me back for a further foray to the mines with my wife and daughter. First we visited GML's Huay Xai offices, where we asked about Jeppesen, but were told he was away in the Lao capital, Vientiane, and could not be contacted. When we asked about visiting the mines, the company official said it would be impossible. So I did what I always do when someone tells me I can't go somewhere. I go anyway. We piled into a nearby trishaw and again headed out to the mines.

This time, however, our arrival was expected. While I snapped a picture or two from a distance, a rifle-toting guard approached and made it clear that if I did not cease and desist, a bullet from his weapon would be shortly headed my way. Not wishing to destroy a perfectly good lens, I obeyed. As we drove back to town, an uneasy feeling again gnawed at me – this was one curious sapphire mine. And in the words of the immortals, it was to get "curiouser and curiouser."

All in the family

While all this was occurring, the Doyle/Wolf axis was busy with Max Green's money, as well as selling rubies and sapphires to Indonesia's military elite. According to Wolf: "…there was a lot of 'mad money' being spent by Indonesia's wealthy. They did not care what anything cost as long as the quality was top and the size or carat weight was larger than their peers."

Wolf and Doyle were also involved in the Lao sapphire mine. They had negotiated a royalty agreement with Bjarne Jeppesen's Gem Mining Lao (GML) whereby gems were sent from Laos to Wolf and Doyle's Pacific East Trading Co. for sale in Bangkok. But few sales took place.

At some point, Wolf and Doyle were reported to have loaned between US$2.7 million and US$3.5 million to GML. The investment was not necessarily "mad money." While the Huay Xai deposit never produced the big flash stones of Mogok or Sri Lanka, it was unmatched in the bread-and-butter jewelry sizes of half carat and below. Better yet, the paydirt layer was a relatively shallow six to eight meters. Mining at Huay Xai was like scooping up coffee beans, with sapphire everywhere in the drainages. The vast majority would cut 1–5 mm stones, with 20% requiring no heat treatment. Even with a large-scale mining operation, reserves were said to be sufficient for 25 years.

By 1998, through a series of transactions, GML was supposedly acquired by Asia Sapphires Ltd. (ASL), a company then listed on Canada's Vancouver Stock Exchange. Executive directors were Bjarne Jeppesen and his wife, Julie Bruns, but the public float was actually the creation of Gary Shugg, who lurked quietly beneath the surface. Shugg, who by now had purchased Belize citizenship for A$60,000, had become involved in the mine via his old mate Ted Doyle.

ASL was no mere shell. According to Australian geologist, Brian Senior, who did a detailed mapping of the sapphire reserves, many of the people involved were sincerely interested in developing what promised to be a world-class sapphire deposit. But Shugg, prevented from open participation due to his disbarment in Australia, really held the reins.

And all was not well in sapphire land. Brian Senior described to the author how an entire size sampling of sapphire rough went missing from a locked concrete building overnight during his initial geologic study and Jeppesen confirmed that theft was an ever-present problem.

In February 1999, ASL announced a US$1.99 million investment by Swarovski, a large Austrian gem company. But the whole project was already falling apart. When Jeppesen and Bruns did not receive their promised shareholding, they quit ASL, just about the same time that Gary Shugg's London-based "dissident" group attempted a board takeover. Each side traded charges, with Shugg and his proxy, Ian Webb, suggesting that Jeppesen was mismanaging the company. As evidence, Shugg cited the fact that one of Jeppesen's advisors, Harold Christensen, had earlier been sentenced to eight months' jail in Western Australia in 1995 for his role in a share-price support scam with a gold-mining company, Paragon Resources. He failed to mention his own tarnished past.

For their part, Jeppesen and Bruns claimed that they were being subject to a hostile takeover, with Shugg illegally diverting millions of shares to a Liechtenstein-based company. About this time, equipment at the mine turned up sabotaged. Sorting jigs were sliced up with cutting torches and the Lao sapphire project was in similar tatters.

The heat reached its peak on 28 May 2000, when Jeppesen and Bruns fled to Thailand amidst allegations of missing gems. Renting a house in Bangkok, the couple stayed eight months, then departed for Denmark.

The Lao government later convicted the couple in absentia for theft and misappropriations related to GML and sentenced them to 20 years. Perhaps two months after their departure, quantities of Huay Sai sapphire allegedly appeared in Chanthaburi's gem market.

When Jeppesen and Bruns fled Laos, they left behind unpaid bills, few friends and a letter appointing their security chief, Kerry Danes, to handle all GML's affairs. Danes agreed. He also cosigned a letter from Jeppesen accusing members of the Lao government of corruption. With our 20–20 hindsight, we can safely state something that even Danes would now agree to – this was not a good move.

Going Dane-ish

On December 23 2000, the husband-and-wife team of Kerry and Kay Danes was detained and accused of involvement in the theft of 130 kg of rough sapphire from the Vientiane office of GML.

Mr. Danes was general manager of Lao Securicor, a company that provided a security guard for GML's Vientiane office. Shortly after his detention, his wife Kay Danes was nabbed attempting to walk into Thailand with over US$50,000 in cash stashed in her bag, something she later described as the couple's life savings. Another US$98,000 was later frozen in local bank accounts. Despite the fact that Danes had declared the money (which was returned six months later) and was in the presence of an Australian Embassy official, she was arrested.

At the time of their arrest, Kerry Danes was reportedly on "leave without pay" from the Australian Army, where he had served many years, most with the elite SAS. The arrest of the Danes became a cause célèbre for many Australians, who demanded their country sever diplomatic relations unless the couple was immediately released. But the Lao government stood firm, and on 28 June, 2001 fined the couple and sentenced them to seven years in jail. The charges notably did not include gem smuggling or theft. By this time, Christensen, too, had seen the writing on the jailhouse wall, and had fled to Thailand.

Eventually, months of diplomatic pressure paid off. The Danes were released from jail on 5 October 2001. Still not permitted to leave the country, they decamped at the residence of Australian ambassador to Laos, Jonathan Thwaites. The Lao government issued a pardon on 6 November 2001 and they exited the same day.

As a condition of their release, the Danes agreed to pay A$1.1 million in fines and compensation, the payments to be made in four equal installments. Few, however, expected the Danes to pay. This was largely a face-saving exercise for the Lao government, who could then show to the world that they had not unjustly imprisoned the couple.

With the release of the Danes, the Huay Xai mine remains in limbo. French, South Korean (Buhae Industrial Corp.) and Lao companies are said to be operating concessions today (2002).

I know what you're thinking. Who axed Max? But in a question such as this, what is important is not who did the deed, but who bought the bullet. The $42 million-dollar question.

Certainly there were a number of people who had good reason to speed Max Green's departure to the next lifetime. From ex-partners to ex-investors to ex-lovers, those with a motive could fill a city phone book.

When asked, Lee Wolf suggested that "in the end [Max] had double crossed and taken money off the wrong people; Mafia types usually have only one answer for this type of behavior." Ted Doyle dismissed speculation that he was involved in Max Green's murder: "Yeah, I'm always in lao sapphire, lao sapphires, sapphires from Laos, Huay Xai sapphire, Max Green, Ted Doyle, Lee Wolf, Joe Schall, Gary Shugg, Bjarne Jeppeson, CIAfor killing people who give me money. Meanwhile there's a foolscap sheet of people Max took money off who nobody seems interested in. Some of them are not very nice people.

"I have been offered some flaky arrangements during my time but Max beat them all…. A very fine piece of monofilament was attaching Max Green to the planet. You are talking about a very sick soul who played with the wrong people…

"In the course of trade, Max got killed before he could pay his last bill. It makes it rather difficult for people to pay their bills. Not breathing affects your ability to write checks."

If you had to pick a kill zone, you could do no better than Cambodia's capital of Phnom Penh. Thirty years of civil war had left a country teetering on the brink. This is the Wild Wild East. Guns as common as pencils, law enforcement MIA and lives bought and sold for little more than a pack of fags.

In March 1998, Max Green planned a visit to Singapore and Hong Kong. At the last minute, he added a stopover in Phnom Penh. We do not know why, but whoever played travel agent probably also acted as undertaker.

On 24 March, Max Green checked into Room 511 at the Sofitel Cambodiana. Between the hours of 3:57 and 5:57 PM, he made a number of calls. The first was to Ted Doyle's mobile phone in Thailand. Next he rang his business associate, Bill Lewski's home in Australia, but did not get through. He then tried Lewski's office, but again could not get through. At 4:53 PM he reached Lewski at his home. At 5:55 PM, Max again rang Doyle's mobile phone, but did not get through. He then called Doyle's office in Bangkok.

A hotel maid saw Green in his room at 6:10 PM. Two hours later he dined alone in the hotel's first-floor restaurant. The next morning at 7:30 AM, he passed the front reception desk and headed upstairs for a cup of coffee in the coffee lounge. This was the last the world saw of Max Green.

Between 9:00 AM and 2:00 PM, someone entered Max Green's room. We do not know who because, although the hotel did have security cameras, either the tape went missing or the floor wasn't yet hooked up. His visitor was apparently expected.

The next day at 2:20 PM, a maid approached Room 511. It should have been empty, its occupant on an 11:00 AM flight to Hong Kong. But beneath the brass room number plate, the privacy light still glowed red. The cleaner rang the doorbell. There was no answer. Opening the door, she saw the key in the power box and heard the television. Gingerly, the maid entered, but stopped after seeing a man's feet on the bed. Assuming him to be asleep, she retreated.

At 3:00 PM she returned with her supervisor. They rang the bell again and entered. The lifeless body of Max Green lay face down on the bed, rouge staining the pillow with something that once was, but was no longer. The back of his head had been smashed against the floor, his face bashed against a stone table, so badly disfigured as to be unrecognizable. A necktie twisted around his throat delivered an apparent coup d'grace. On the floor was Max Green's gold Cartiér watch. Cash, credit cards and passport remained in the room safe. All that was missing was his laptop computer – that, and his life.

Outside the hotel, visible from Max's window, muddy water flowed down Mekong River. All the way from Laos, pissed slowly out to sea…

Maxie – poor, poor Maxie – you forgot the first rule – you let your guard down. You forgot to feel for the Adam's apple.


Shortly after speaking to Max Green in Phnom Penh, Ted Doyle boarded a flight from Bangkok to London. In 2001, he was said to have suffered a serious motorcycle accident while on his way to Khao Yai with his son, Arta. One associate said: "Doyle was a terrible driver, and in Thailand, that ain't a good thing."

Gary and Veronique Shugg were said to be living in the West End of London.

Lee Wolf took the ups and downs in stride. As he told a friend, "You figure when you get a million or two, you'll be set for life. In reality, it don't take long to spend that." He told the author in late 2002 that he was trying to "put the wheels back on my wagon."

Following his death, Green's body was brought back to Melbourne for burial. Shortly after the funeral, his remains were exhumed under court order, just to make sure it really was Max buried in that grave. Yes, the body was that of Max Green. The location of Max's millions, and his laptop, remains a mystery.


A big tip of the hat to Joseph Schall for hours of conversations and background info. Also to Lee Wolf of Bangkok, who for the first time has spoken publicly about the Max Green affair. My buddies William Larson and Edward Boehm pulled yeoman editorial duty. Other private sources helped, but prefer to remain anonymous. And thanks to all those who continue to contact me with further clues to the Max Green mystery.

About the author

Richard W. Hughes is one of the world’s foremost experts on ruby and sapphire. The author of several books and over 170 articles, his writings and photographs have appeared in a diverse range of publications, and he has received numerous industry awards. Co-winner of the 2004 Edward J. Gübelin Most Valuable Article Award from Gems & Gemology magazine, the following year he was awarded a Richard T. Liddicoat Journalism Award from the American Gem Society. In 2010, he received the Antonio C. Bonanno Award for Excellence in Gemology from the Accredited Gemologists Association. The Association Française de Gemmologie (AFG) in 2013 named Richard as one of the fifty most important figures that have shaped the history of gems since antiquity. In 2016, Richard was awarded a visiting professorship at Shanghai's Tongji University. 2017 saw the publication of Richard's Ruby & Sapphire: A Gemologist's Guide, arguably the most complete book ever published on a single gem species and the culmination of nearly four decades of work in gemology.


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Eoin Christie

Jul 16, 2019
My wife, daughters and I spent a day out with the artisan miners (not the GML commercial mine) South of Huayxai back in 2004. They were impressive, sinking un-shored vertical shafts in loose river gravels down about 10 metres, then stoping out where they found a layer of nim-bearing gravels.
The ore and overburden were hoisted up with bamboo baskets, then panned with wooden pans. Working below the water table, they would lower a petrol-powered centrifugal pump down after the shaft got too deep for the suction head at the surface.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time in old and new underground mines, but none as dangerous as that combo.


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Another excellent report on the Shan Rebellion.

Trouble In Phrae The Shan Rebellion Of 1902

The Shan Rebellion began on 25th July 1902.

Early Northern Siam
In the early years of the twentieth century Northern Siam was in a state of transition from traditional to modern methods of rule and control. The region was still remote from Bangkok, taking at least a month of arduous travel by river and jungle track to reach. Between 1893 and 1904 a series of treaties with the French demarcated the modern borders of the region but French officials in the region hoped to expand their influence into Siamese territory and viewed the borders as “an illusory frontier”. Within those borders the new government administration that was being established under King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) only had a tenuous control over these remote outer provinces where the traditional hereditary rulers or “Chao” (Pronounced “Jow”) still held power. The Franco-Siam treaty of 1893 that had established the Mekong River as the border with French Indochina also established a 25km “Reserve Zone” on the west bank of the Mekong in which Siam was prohibited to post any military forces, which in practice the French used to exclude any officials such as police or even postal officers. In addition the European powers had negotiated treaties with Siam granting their citizens extra-territorial rights. This meant that a British or a French subject could not be prosecuted by a Siamese court but had to be tried in International Courts established under the treaties. All these factors reduced the control the Siamese government had over people within Northern Siam.

In the final two decades of the nineteenth century Northern Siam was transformed by the arrival of British teak companies moving eastwards from British India and Burma in search of fresh sources of teak. The region became key to British trade interests and the British rupee became the predominant currency rather than the Siamese tical or baht. The British teak companies bought with them large numbers of workers from the Burmese Shan states. The British annexation of Upper Burma in 1885 also created instability and conflict within the Shan states causing increased migration into Northern Siam by ethnic Shan.

Technically these Shan migrants were British subjects but in practice obtaining a passport as evidence was almost impossible. Under the new Siamese administration they were subject to multiple new taxes on their land, cattle and boats, as well as a 4 baht annual head tax. The implementation of strict passport regulations by Siam on the border with British Upper Burma greatly reduced the cattle trade which the Shan were heavily involved in. Thus to avoid Siamese taxation and find alternative sources of income, many Shan resorted to banditry and other criminal activity bringing them frequently into conflict with the police.

Trouble at the Mine
Problems began in July 1902 when Siamese police attempted to arrest some Shan at a ruby mine at Baan Baw Kao south of Phrae. Fighting broke out and the police retreated after some of their men were killed. The Siamese regrouped outside the town assembling a force of some eighty police and soldiers together with elephants and horses. Whilst the Siamese carefully prepared the Shan were not idle either and when the police advance began on 23rd July it was ambushed within a ravine leading to the mine. The advance quickly disintegrated into a panicked flight back to Lampang. At least sixteen Siamese were killed whilst the Shan were left with elephants, horses, mules, provisions, guns and ammunition.

Rather than waiting for the inevitable return of an even larger Siamese force the Shan now decided to take the initiative. At dawn on the 25th July, now amply equipped with guns, at least forty or more Shan entered the town of Phrae under the leadership of two men, Paka Mong and Sala Po Chai.

Their first target was the police station which they quickly seized, killing many of the police in the process. It appears that despite rumours of an impending attack, the Siamese Governor Phraya Chaiyabun had not permitted the release of ammunition to the police (Who were probably recruited locally and hence not fully trusted by Phraya Chaiyabun who was from Bangkok).

Shan residents of Phrae now swelled the ranks of the rebellion which moved on to destroy the Post Office, breaking the telegraph line, the residence of the Siamese Commissioner Phraya Chaiyabun, who had already fled, the jail, whose prisoners enthusiastically joined the rebellion, and the courthouse where the rebels liberated a safe containing 40,000 baht. The money was quickly put to use by offering a 300 baht bounty for every Siamese head delivered.

Success had been achieved surprisingly quickly and many of the rebels now stopped for a celebratory breakfast at the town distillery. It must have made for a wild scene as rebels and recently freed prisoners quickly got drunk, many now bizarrely dressed in clothes they had found at the Commissioner’s Residence. Perhaps wisely the rebel leaders bought the party to a premature halt by smashing the rice wine jars.

As the day progressed rebels continued to search for and execute Siamese. Phraya Chaiyabun was soon found and executed about 4km outside of town. A memorial now stands at the spot on Highway 101. About twenty other Siamese were killed that day, the biggest massacre ever of central government officials in Northern Thailand. Local residents, considered to be Lao, were left unharmed. The Western foreign residents were also unmolested, these consisting of just Dr Thomas and his wife who led the American Presbyterian Mission and a few managers of the teak businesses.

Paka Mong led his followers to the residence of Chao Luang Piriya Thepawongse, the hereditary ruler of Phrae, then 66 years old. They found him alone, all his household having fled in fear of the rebels. Paka Mong presented the Shans’ case, that all they wanted was to restore the ruler’s former power and to oust the oppressive Siamese. Other members of the ruling family were bought from their hiding places across the town to drink the waters of allegiance to the rebels and to sign a declaration ending Siamese rule in Phrae. Well aware of their status as British subjects the rebels also presented their grievances of “constant oppression by the Siamese officials” to the only British officials in town, these being employed by the Siamese Forestry Department.

Defeat at Lampang
Although the attack on Phrae began as a spontaneous pre-emptive strike against the police the remarkable success of the action that day seems to have emboldened Paka Mong and Sala Po Chai to dream of freeing Northern Siam of oppressive Siamese rule. At this point Sala Po Chai led 150 men south to head off the Siamese army that would inevitably be approaching through the mountain pass from Uttaradit. Paka Mong would lead 200 men to attack Lampang, the nearest important town.

News of Paka Mong’s planned attack leaked out almost immediately and an intercepted letter even revealed the planned date of the attack and details of their plan to continue on to Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Phayao and Chiang Saen. The ruler of Lampang, Chao Bunwatwongse Manit, mustered about 1000 irregular troops for the defence of the town. Meanwhile all the prisoners in Lampang’s jail were summarily executed to prevent them joining the rebels as had happened in Phrae. A 24 year old Danish Captain, Hans Markvard Jensen was sent across from Chiang Mai with 54 armed police to support the defence. Arriving on 29th July Jensen found that the town’s most substantial defences were nine V-shaped teak barricades that had been erected across key roads under the instructions of the British teak company officers. This operation was led by none other than Louis Leonowens, son of Anna Leonowens, tutor in the 1860’s to King Mongkut’s children.

The attack came at dawn on 4th August with Shan forces approaching Chao Bunwat’s Residence from the east along Bunwat Road and also along by the riverside. The group by the riverside succeeded in seizing the barricade there from its defenders but at the Bunwat Road barricade Captain Jensen’s men held firm. Jensen then led a small number of men to a position from which they could fire upon the Shan within the occupied riverside barricade. The Shan now found themselves under fire from all directions, including rifle shots from Louis Leonowens who was in his house across the river protecting Chao Bunwat and the Siamese Commissioner. The Shan lost heart and began to flee east, pursued by Siamese forces who had also been promised 300 baht for every Shan head they produced. By the end of the day some 25 Shan heads had been delivered, including Paka Mong’s, which were displayed on sticks outside the Chao Bunwat’s residence.

Despite the victory, the authorities in Lampang and Chiang Mai were not confident that the rebellion had been decisively ended and prepared for further attacks. Chiang Mai barricaded its city gates and mustered some 5000 troops for its defence. Under the instructions of the Commissioner of Chiang Mai, Chao Bunwat was evacuated from Lampang, escorted by Captain Jensen and Louis Leonowens. The departure of the town’s ruler resulted in a state of anarchy for three days with widespread killing and looting. Order was only restored when Chao Bunwat at his own insistence returned to his official residence on 7th August.

On 5th August the 24 year old British vice-consul Harold Lyle based in Nan arrived in Phrae, which was now largely deserted. He moved into the residence of the assassinated Commissioner Phraya Chaiyabun as a symbol of restoring authority to the town and then sent urgent letters to Sala Po Chai urging him to disperse his forces and not attempt to confront the approaching Siamese army. And after that Lyle organised a game of polo to lift the spirits of the beleaguered foreign residents of Phrae.

Two days later Shan began arriving back in Phrae from their defeat at Lampang. Again Lyle encouraged them to disperse and return quietly to British Shan territories. Down south Sala Po Chai’s forces did disperse as Lyle had urged and on 13th August Lyle rode out 8km from Phrae to meet with the first of the Siamese forces that had reached the area without encountering any significant resistance. Lyle attempted to stop the Siamese forces from entering the town for fear that the Shan, British subjects, would be massacred. He succeeded in delaying the entry of the Siamese for three days after which more troops arrived under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Gustav Schau, the Danish Commander in Chief of the Siamese Provincial Military Police. On the 20th August Field Marshall Chao Phraya Surasakmontri arrived with yet more troops and carrying full military authority from Bangkok.

The rebellion was over, the Shan now leaderless and without any hope of ousting the Siamese from the region. Most dispersed but several unfortunates were captured. Ten of these were executed in Phrae whilst another sixteen were taken back to Bangkok for trial.

From the outset the Siamese authorities suspected that Chao Luang Piriya Thepawongse had supported the rebels. His son and other high ranking members of the ruling family were arrested and on the 24th September King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) stripped Thepawongse of his title. Thepawongse fled Phrae the following night and successfully escaped to Luang Prabang, the Siamese only half-heartedly pursuing him since his quiet departure suited their interests very well. In absentia Thepawongse was charged with rebellion and sentenced to death, although in fact he lived out his remaining 10 years quite comfortably in Luang Prabang. The extent of his involvement in the whole affair is to this day unclear.

Retreat into the Reserve Zone
After the defeat at Lampang the Shan rebels dispersed but they did not disappear. They soon regrouped at Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong, towns on the Siamese bank of the Mekong within the Reserve Zone where they were protected from Siamese military action. From these towns the Shan continued to cause problems throughout 1903, including a failed attack on Chiang Rai. In early 1904 the troubles in Chiang Khong reached such a point that the local chief fled and was replaced by one of the Shan themselves. By May that year the town was reported to be in a state of “complete anarchy”.

On 26th October 1902 several hundred Siamese troops entered the village of Ta Pha near Chiang Kham, the location of a British owned Bombay Burmah Teak Company (BBTC) compound. Shan rebels had built some barricades on the roads leading to the village but the rebels quickly fled as the Siamese forces arrived. Nevertheless the Siamese forces fired salvos into the village and entered the BBTC compound, taking down the company flag as they did so.

At least five locals found at the compound were killed and several more injured. The dead included several women. One Burmese and one Shan teak worker were taken prisoner and later executed outside of the village. The troops spent another five days pillaging and destroying the village. This killing of BBTC workers caused outrage with the British who insisted upon a lengthy investigation. At the end of 1903 a Siamese court sentenced the Siamese commander responsible to twelve years imprisonment.

Finally in April 1904 the Siamese received intelligence telling them that the Shan were preparing for another attack on Chiang Rai. They now requested permission from the French to enter the Reserve Zone to deal decisively with the Shan. Local French authorities had long hoped to expand French control into the Reserve Zone and beyond and had quietly been playing a dangerous game giving shelter and support to the rebels that were destabilising Siamese control of the region. But in Bangkok a new treaty between France and Siam was now nearly settled, one that would eliminate the Reserve Zone whilst giving France territory west of Luang Prabang and opening negotiations over the Cambodian border. Now France also wanted to suppress the troublesome Shan. The Governor General of Indochina quickly approved the Siamese request and in mid-May Siamese troops equipped with artillery headed across the Reserve Zone towards Chiang Khong and Chiang Saen. Chiang Khong was reoccupied quite easily with the Shan quickly retreating across the Mekong into French territory, but at Chiang Saen stiff resistance was encountered and it took two attempts for the Siamese to take the town. But now finally Shan resistance to Siamese rule was over.

Winners and Losers
The direct cause of the Shan rebellion of 1902 was no doubt simmering discontent with new taxes and restrictions on trade imposed by the Siamese. But the presence of the somewhat lawless Shan in Northern Siam had been caused by Britain’s annexation of Upper Burma in 1886 and it was regional competition between Britain, France and Siam that created the environment in which the Shan could operate within and between the lines of British, French and Siamese control. After the rebellion a Siamese investigation uncovered a web of complex plots leading all the way to the Burmese Prince Myingun, a half-brother of King Thibaw Min who had been deposed by the British. It was probably Myingun who had instilled the idea within the Shan community that the region’s traditional rulers could be restored to power.

The result of the rebellion was the very opposite of what the Shan had hoped. Bangkok was motivated to speed up consolidation of the northern city states under the Ministry of Interior. The hereditary rulers were viewed with increased distrust and Bangkok took every opportunity to replace them with appointed officials. It also influenced budgetary decisions which would shape the future nation, the government choosing to invest in the building of railways that could quickly carry troops to the north, rather than invest in an expensive scheme being proposed at the time to improve agriculture through irrigation in the Chao Phraya delta.

Today the Shan Rebellion is usually seen as a small bump on the road to establishing the modern Thai nation. But this story is also that of a people whose territory and culture didn’t fit within the border lines drawn up by colonising nations, and who never had the opportunity to establish their own “nation” with all the trappings that go with this in the modern world. For a few brief weeks in 1902 a small band of Shan believed that they could turn back the immense forces of change around them, but perhaps even then they were simply deceived by a prince seeking to restore his own power. But more than one hundred years later when so much has changed, the Shan are still taking up arms against oppressive rulers.

Source: Trouble in Phrae – The Shan Rebellion of 1902

There are many excellent historical stories on Siam Rat Blog
Highly recommended if you want to know a bit more about the areas and sites you ride through & visit


Apr 8, 2015
Thanks for the link. Had a Shan girlfriend for a number of years. "Visited" across the border to see her family with her. Quite the place !
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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Finishing the Shan - An attack in Chiang Kham
Andrew Walker - 05 Feb, 2013

Working through French colonial archives from northern Laos and Siam I have found a fascinating account of repressive Siamese action against the Shan rebellion which broke out in Phrae in July 1902. Some of the French officials had quiet sympathies for the Shan, and little sympathy for the Siamese who were rapidly expanding their administrative hold in the northern province.

French attitudes towards the Siamese hardened when reports started coming in of “unspeakable atrocities” committed by Siamese troops in their repression of the rebellion. An account of an incident in late October 1902, was provided by the French Consul in Nan. After some confrontations with rebels around near the village of Ta Pha (near Chiang Kham), Siamese troops marched into the village. They arrived at a house belonging to the Bombay Burma Company, a British trading and timber business. Here is an edited translation of the Consul’s account (with most of the original spelling, which is sometimes very difficult to decipher):

In a nutshell this is what happened: Tapha is a small village, at the junction of the roads, which lead from Nan and Pré. It is inhabited by Luus and Khamous people, it is a forestry station where the Bombay Burmah Company has a house, a shop and a rice granary. The rebels based in Xieng Kham had sent a vanguard on the 24th October to Tapha to try to stop the troops coming from Pré to cross the ford of Nam Méyon. In the morning of the 26th they learnt that a second column was coming from Penh-Yao to take them from the rear and decided to go towards it. They met at five or six kilometres from Tapha, when the column had just left Muong Sa.

Since they only had flintlocks they could only hold for a few moments and fled through the forest, towards Muong-Song, without entering into Tapha. This took place at 11am. Instead of following the rebels, the column kept marching on Tapha, which it reached at two o’clock in the afternoon. As soon as they came in sight of the houses, and although there was not a single rebel left, they fired several salvos and came to the Bombay Burmah land.

They removed the flag of the company, destroyed the fence and riddled the house with bullets before going in. Inside they found three Khamous, a Lao, a Luu and an eight-year-old child; and two Burmese hired as guards. The soldiers chased these poor unfortunates who had taken refuge in the kitchen; one of the Khamous, the Lao and the Luu were killed at close range, the two other Khamous and the eight-year-old child were seriously wounded. The two Burmese were chained. The private house, the shop and the rice granary were vandalised and looted. After that they saw a big hut which belongs to the indigenous wife of the of the Company agent. There they massacred two women in their sleep, including a sixty year old and wounded two more.

Once these summary executions over, the crazed gunmen spread through the village to take people from their houses and move them to the pagoda where they were kept until nightfall. Meanwhile the plunder of the village took place in a systematic fashion by the soldiers, the partisans and the coolies of the column.

The morning after the Phaya Datzakone, who styles himself “Commander in Chief of the vanguard army”, arrived at Tapha were the whole army was now gathered. For five days, 600 regulars and as many coolies finished ruining the village before leaving for Xieng Kham. The day they left, the two Burmese of the Bombay Burma Company were taken five kilometres away, were tied to a big tree each, facing the tree, and decapitated.

What is important/what we should keep in mind is that all the victims were in houses belonging to foreigners; and that all of them are, with no exception, English and French protégés and either employed or relatives of employees in the service of Foreigners. I met with my English colleague at Tapha who had also come to investigate; he is as upset as me. What will be done? It would seem improbable that both governments would leave such crimes unpunished. As to the rebels, they seem to have scattered for the time being.

Source: Siamese atrocities in Chiang Kham - New Mandala

See also: Regional networks and the Shan rebellion - New Mandala

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