Macau unworried by return of Broken Tooth from jail

Security and economy much better than when triads unleashed pre-handover wave of violence

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2012, 6:28am

Triads in Macau now earn rich pickings from the city's casinos instead of robbing the public. And with Beijing in charge, the public disorder that dogged the then Portuguese enclave before the 1999 handover is unlikely to be seen again.

So say a Macau politician and a businessman whose trade was badly affected by pre-handover criminality.

They suggest the public does not expect the release of the once-feared gangster "Broken Tooth" Wan Kuok-koi, 57, from prison yesterday to destabilise Macau.

Au Kam-san, a New Democratic Macau Association legislator, said the city's residents were generally not worried, as the public security situation had changed in the past 13 years.

"Gangsters in Macau have never been afraid of their own government, whether it is the Portuguese or the Macau people," Au said.

"The only thing they fear in the world is the Chinese Communist Party.

"That is the reason why fights broke out among gangs as the handover drew close. They were making the final effort to secure their own interests."

After the 1999 handover, Au said, gangs turned to the booming gambling business to make a living. Since then there had been few open challenges to public order, he said.

"The [monetary] benefits that gangsters can gain from society would be much less than what they get from the casinos," Au said. "No one would fight and kill if they can earn money."

He added: "The gambling industry still has a lot of room for Wan to make a living if he is to reorganise a gang."

Chan Peng-hong, whose shop Sam Long Jewellery has operated for more than 30 years in the grass-roots district of Sam Chan Tang, still remembers the days of disorder, but says he too is not worried today.

"The casinos could not produce enough benefits in the past, but now the benefits are shared harmoniously," he said. "They are too busy making money as betting agents in the increasing number of casinos and do not have much conflict of interests."

Chan closed one of his two jewellery shops in 1999 after gun-toting robbers struck three times in the space of two years.

Ricardo Siu Chi-sen, associate professor of business economics at the University of Macau, said that as the government tightened regulation over the gaming industry, "the historical colours of the casino business will fade gradually".

As the local gambling market attracted more overseas investment, Siu said, he believed the business would continue to develop Macau as a healthy leisure attraction.


Life and Crimes

March 1989 "Broken Tooth" Wan Kuok-koi allegedly joins the 14K triad society.

November 1993 14K kills Hong Kong triad kingpin Andely Chan Yiu-hing, known as the "Tiger of Wan Chai". Wan, allegedly 14K's leader, is the prime suspect but is not charged.

January 1994 to December 1997 Police accuse Wan of many triad-related crimes, including racketeering and loan sharking, but do not arrest him.

May 1998 Now the most feared gangster in Macau, Wan is arrested hours after Judiciary Police chief Antonio Marques Baptista survives a bomb attack. His followers set alight more than 50 vehicles in retaliation for his detention.

November 1999 Macau's Court of First Instance sentences him to 15 years in prison on loan sharking, money laundering and being a leader of an organised crime gang.

December 1999 He enters a specially built high-security jail on Coloane Island.

July 2000 The Court of Second Instance cuts his jail term to 13 years and 10 months on appeal.

December 2012 Wan, who had three parole requests turned down, is finally released.

John Carney