How Macau's gang war spilled over to Vancouver

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 March, 2013, 2:45am

The leafy suburbs of Vancouver are a world away from the tough streets of pre-handover Macau.

But on a summer's night in 1997 those worlds collided when triad gunmen sprayed a luxury home on the Canadian city's east side with bullets. The owner of the home and apparent target, Lai Tong Sang, was not hurt.

The shooting was a footnote to the Macau triad war that played out from 1996 to 1998 between the Wo On Lok, supposedly headed by Lai, and the 14K gang of "Broken Tooth" Wan Kuok-koi.

The war over the casino junket market reached its zenith on May 1, 1998, with the attempted car-bomb assassination of Macau's then police chief, Antonio Baptista. Hours later, the hulking Baptista (nicknamed "Rambo") arrested Wan at the Lisboa Hotel as Wan and his cohorts were watching a self-funded movie about his criminal exploits starring Simon Yam Tat-wah as Wan.

According to contemporary accounts, the principals in the war were Wan, Lai, and Wan's former boss of the 14K, Ng Wai. Wan is said to have turned against Ng, who in turn joined forces with Lai's Wo On Lok gang.

In the weeks leading up to Wan's arrest, at least six murders of police and other people were linked to the warring triads. When Wan was arrested, his gang launched dozens of shopfront arson attacks and firebombed almost 100 vehicles. A government prosecutor and his pregnant wife were gunned down but survived.

They did not want to start the war again … so chose a drive-by shooting instead

In mid-1997, almost a year before Wan's arrest, the battle between the 14K and Wo On Lok had ebbed, according to Canadian Police Superintendent Patrick Fogarty, whose team was wiretapping Lai and his enemies in Vancouver.

That may have saved Lai's life.

Fogarty said the would-be hitman, Simon Chow, was told instead to send a message "to let him know that we can reach out to him in Canada by shooting up his house".

"They did not want to start the war again … so chose a drive-by shooting instead."

Ng is doing well as chairman of listed casino operator Amax Holdings. He told Eastweek magazine last year he now counted Wan and Lai among his friends.

But goodwill goes only so far. Last June, Ng, 65, was bashed by six men in the restaurant of his own casino.

The case is unsolved.

Ian Young