Gangster 'Broken Tooth' Wan Kuok-koi wants quiet post-prison life

'Broken Tooth' will leave Macau prison today, and hopes to leave behind his notorious past

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2012, 12:13pm

It's a tall order, but on his release from Coloane's maximum-security prison today, Macau's most notorious gangster wants one thing - to be forgotten.

"Broken Tooth" Wan Kuok-koi was jailed for a string of gangland offences in a casino-linked crime wave that gripped Macau in the run-up to its handover in 1999. The 14K triad boss has been held in a specially built high-security jail since 1998. Today he walks free.

Pedro Leal, one of the lawyers representing Wan, said that after nearly 14 years in prison, all Wan desires now is that everyone forgets about him altogether.

"The only thing he wants is for people to forget him. In recent weeks he's been on the cover of many magazines and they've all talked about his past. All he wants is to be left in peace. He's going to lead a quiet life from now on."

Leal also said that Wan, 57, received no special privileges while in jail and was treated like any other prisoner.

Wan was convicted of a string of offences in November 1999 and imprisoned in a tiny, windowless cell at the high-security jail on Coloane Island. The block was purpose-built to hold Wan and his henchmen and is a kilometre from the main facility.

If Leal is to be believed, Wan's release will finally close the chapter on one of Macau's most infamous and bloody eras. When Macau's Judiciary Police director Antonio Marques Baptista watched his car explode as he went jogging with his dog on Macau's Guia Hill on May 1, 1998, he was seeing Wan's reign of terror go up in flames as well.

Hours after the car bomb went off Wan was behind bars - where he has been ever since. Wan was found guilty of loan sharking, money laundering and being a gang leader in 1999. He was never charged over the car bombing, but the attack was the final straw for Macau's Portuguese authorities.

In the six weeks before Wan's arrest, six murders were linked to triads - including those of a Marine Police officer, a gambling inspector and the chauffeur of the enclave's top crime fighter. But it was only after Baptista's car was blown up that Wan was arrested. His imprisonment sparked a furious response: his gang went on a rampage and Macau was hit with firebombings that damaged almost 100 vehicles. Shopfronts were gutted in 24 separate arson attacks.

Senior government prosecutor Lourenco Nogueiro and his pregnant wife were gunned down in a motorcycle drive-by shooting. Both survived. It said much for the muscle Wan had at his disposal, but exactly how formidable he was has long been a source of conjecture.

At the height of his power in the mid-1990s, when Macau was rocked by violent turf wars between rival triad gangs, Wan raked in tens of millions of dollars from his loan sharking and illegal gambling operations, and painted himself as the Godfather of South China. In reality, he may have been just a talented spin doctor.

While some security analysts described him as Southeast Asia's "most powerful triad leader" before his arrest, those who followed his trial came to the conclusion he was just a common gangster suffering from delusions of criminal grandeur. During the trial it emerged that Wan had just a few years of formal schooling and an army numbering hundreds, not the thousands of which he bragged.

He had a strange nickname, but he had earned it. Wan cut his teeth - and lost several - in vicious street fights as a young, aspiring gangster. One veteran crime reporter recalled Wan being rushed to hospital as a teenager with "blood dripping from half a dozen stab wounds".

Today he wants everyone to believe those days are gone.