Herbal medicine robberies offer crime gangs high rewards

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 December, 2012, 9:06am

The Vancouver area's many high-end Chinese herbal medicine stores have provided rich pickings for criminal gangs.

There have been at least three herbal crime sprees in the past five years, including the current rash of thefts in Richmond.

Tung Yun Tong Herbal, the target of the most recent thefts this month, was also hit by a violent robbery in July 2010.

Two men subdued staff with bear repellent - a particularly potent kind of pepper spray - before stealing about C$40,000 (HK$25,000) of cordyceps fungus (dong chung cho) and bird's nest.

In addition to the loss of the stolen goods, the potent spray ruined many products and the store was temporarily shut down by the regional health authority while it was sanitised.

Weeks later, three robbers wielding bear spray hit a herbal store on Vancouver's eastside, netting another C$40,000 haul of cordyceps and other products.

The 2010 robberies coincided with a spike in the price of cordyceps caused by flooding in China. In 2007 and early 2008, three Richmond herbal stores were hit, the main target then being bird's nest.

In the final raid of that spree, an armed trio wearing masks robbed Ming Heng Ginseng Dry Foods in Richmond.

An adult and two youths were arrested for the crime, although it was unclear whether they were linked to the other robberies.

Ethnic Chinese gangs have been a part of the British Columbian underworld since the 19th century, and have included some of the biggest players in the Hong Kong triad scene.

But the main triad group in Vancouver in recent years has been the Big Circle Gang, which made headlines in 2009 when Big Circle loan shark Betty Tung Sze Yan was gunned down outside an illegal casino.

Among Yan's Vancouver clients was then-fugitive Lai Changxing , now serving a life sentence in a prison in China over a multibillion-dollar smuggling scheme.