Crime, Casinos and Money Laundering: Asia’s ‘Mr Big’ Arrested

Dubbed the ‘El Chapo’ of Asia, Tse Chi Lop was one of the world’s most wanted men. The multi-billionaire drug lord made fortunes from his network of drug supply chains across Asia. He was an active money-launderer too and utilized the shady financial structures of the junket operators world to wash hundreds of millions of dollars each year through Australian and Macau casinos, including the Crown Casino venue in Perth.

Perth nighttime water.

The Perth skyline houses several casinos that became the money laundering spots of high net worth criminals from Asia, including the recently arrested Tse Chi Lop. ©Mad_Photography_Perth/Pixabay

The career criminal Tse Chi Lop, 56, was apprehended by police in Amsterdam at the request of Australian police as he was about to board a connecting flight to Canada. Australian police have tracked Tse since 2008, and suspect him of being the mastermind behind mass drug importations to the country, of a multitude of illegal methamphetamine substances. Now being held in the Netherlands, Australian police have pushed to have him extradited and face trial over the charges made against him in Australia.

The significance of this arrest cannot be understated enough for law enforcement operating in the region, it is already being dubbed the most important arrest in more than two decades, as Tse’s syndicate is believed to be responsible for more than 70 percent of all illegal drugs entering Australia. The organization sometimes referred to as the Grandfather Syndicate was able to exploit various corporate control vulnerabilities at Crown Casino to launder huge amounts of money.

Tse’s arrest will be celebrated well beyond the shores of Australia, and joint forces across Europe, United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Asia have long been collaborating on efforts to ensure his capture. Tse very much represents the modernization and corporatization of organized crime, whereby violence was viewed as bad for business, and the industrialization of drug synthesis processes was key to optimizing the business model.

Millions of Dollars from Tse’s Organization Flowed Through Crown Casino

The structure of Tse’s organization was not too dissimilar from a large multi-national corporation. There were several dozen executive managers who regularly shifted in seniority depending on the supply and demand of their location. As an entire entity, most of the money was laundered in Australia, pouring into a plethora of different ventures from internet gambling, hotels, restaurants, and largescale commercial construction companies.

Of all the valuable assets controlled by the company at the height of its power in 2013 was its infiltration of legislative governments and police forces across Asia. By pooling resources, assets, and contacts, Tse’s organization was able to wield tremendous influence and reach across the entire peninsula. The most valuable contacts included high-ranking Asian government officials and their families.

Court records dating back to the time reveal how Australian police had tracked millions in cashback to the Crown Casinos venue in Melbourne. Cash generated by the drug sales of the crime group was filtered down through various offshore accounts and found its way to the junket operators employed by Australian casinos to bring in VIP customers from China. Crown licensed and paid various junkets to bring wealthy gamblers to its casino located at Southbank in Melbourne.

The same activities were rife at a Crown Casinos resort in Perth, only, in this case, the sums of money were much larger. Hundreds of millions of dollars arrived in cash via gamblers hopping off private jets from Macau. Despite apparent internal warnings about the junket operator’s legitimacy from controllers at Crown, the activity was allowed to continue unimpeded. Little did the authorities know at the time, but Tse Chi Lop was the anonymous managing partner of the junket operator pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Australian casinos.

The Game’s Up Tse

By 2015, Tse the unimposing middle-aged Asian man was firmly on the target list of the drug enforcement agencies around the world. Not well known due to his low-key business style, Tse had gradually built up his reputation in the criminal underworld as someone who could be relied upon and brought a wealth of connections from his vast network into any potential dealings.

To make the arrest of Tse, the Australian authorities had to rely on old and time-consuming tools of investigation. In collaboration with the Taiwanese authorities, the country he was suspected of hiding, they were able to gather intelligence on his whereabouts and future movements. When the moment arose this month and he was traveling internationally, the authorities seized the moment to strike and picked him up mid-transit at the Amsterdam international airport.

His arrest and the plans to extradite him are undoubtedly a huge success for the investigators that had been pursuing him for so long, but it also leaves a large number of questions unanswered. Australia Federal Police Deputy Commissioner had already stated that locking up Tse was less of a priority than dismantling the financial structures and corruption that enabled his network of criminality to operate for such a sustained period.

Make no mistake, though, Tse’s downfall only leaves a void that will inevitably be filled by one of his associates. Whilst police tactics are improving and the methods for mitigating rogue junket operators from laundering cash through the country’s casinos have improved, large inefficiencies remain. International law enforcement agencies are already examining who may have stepped in to fill Tse’s shoes.

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