91 arrests smash Tai Po triad, police say
Clifford Lo and Michael Martin
Police believe they have smashed Tai Po's most powerful triad gang after its two alleged leaders and 15 associates were arrested in an undercover operation that netted 91 people.
The Sun Yee On faction ran gambling dens and illegal bookmaking, trafficked drugs, sold illicit cigarettes in the district and operated a loan-sharking operation in which debtors were forced to perform illegal activities for the gang, police say.
In a series of raids over the past two days, police arrested 54 males and 37 females aged 16 to 79. Officers also seized HK$350,000 in cash and HK$190,000 in chips. The operation was continuing last night.
The 91 included the faction's two alleged leaders - brothers aged 55 and 58 - and their 15 associates, including the wife of the elder brother and a 16-year-old student. The rest were gamblers. Fourteen were still being held for questioning last night.
The younger brother was arrested at the Lo Wu border checkpoint shortly before midnight on Monday as he tried to flee to the mainland after hearing of the other arrests.
Police said the gangsters were lending money at annual interest rates of up to 2,400 per cent, 40 times the legal limit of 60 per cent.
'In one case, the debtor borrowed HK$10,000 but was required to pay HK$5,000 as interest every seven days,' an officer said.
The debtors were mainly housewives and jobless people who borrowed money after losing heavily in gambling dens run by the faction.
'If they failed to repay their loans, the gang used illegal debt-collecting tactics such as nuisance calls, home visits, threats, assaults or pouring paint,' Superintendent Eddy Choy Wai-fu said. If they still did not pay they were forced to work for the gang.
'They were recruited to sell contraband cigarettes, operate gambling dens and carry out illegal debt-collection activities,' Choy said. 'The gangsters used this method in an attempt to avoid being arrested.'
Last night, police were still investigating how many people had borrowed money from the gang and how much money was involved.
The 91 arrests were the result of an operation that began in February when an undercover agent infiltrated the faction. It began after intelligence showed the gang had stepped up activities and was taking more than HK$500,000 a month.
The operation provided the list of ringleaders and their associates together with the locations of the gang's gambling and drug dens.
About 100 plain-clothes and uniformed officers started making arrests at about 3pm on Monday. They raided a number of locations, including three gambling dens in Tai Po.
The elder brother and his wife were arrested in one of the gambling dens at about 3pm on Monday. Another 17 people were also arrested in an illegal mahjong parlour.
The leaders and associates were arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking, illegal bookmaking, recruitment of people into a triad society, lending money at excessive interest rates and operating gambling dens.
Choy said he believed triad activities in Tai Po would decline after the operation. He said police were also considering seeking a court order to freeze the assets of the two alleged faction leaders.