AT the height of his charmed criminal career, Chun Yeung bought 10-kilogram parcels of opium from rebels in the jungles of Burma for $5,000 and sold them for as much as $25 million. That was with the right connections. And Chun, 40, arguably the territory's most prolific trafficker but who on Monday lost $57 million in an asset forfeiture case after being given a 25-year jail sentence, had some of the best contacts in the business. He had personal rapport with Khun Sa, Thailand's warlord of drugs, now reportedly considering retirement amid defections from his cabal. When it suited him, Chun also traded cash for drugs with Khun Sa's warring rivals. They included the Nga family, who reportedly maintain the dangerous route to mainland China, and the Cheung clan, unofficially responsible for the Thai border. It was a risky yet profitable business. 'It is seldom that we have people like him, who organised the deals with the warlords in Burma and controlled the drugs through all the stages, right up to the delivery,' said Senior Inspector Edwina Lau, of the Hong Kong police Narcotics Bureau, who persuaded Chun after his arrest to make a full confession. 'It is an incredible story.' Chun, a Chinese national with two forged Thailand travel documents, followed a predictable travelling pattern in his drugs business: China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Burma and then, after collecting his narcotics booty, back to China to the provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong. His main dumping spots in Guangdong, he told police, were Guangzhou, Baoon, Shenzhen and Dongguan, changing locations for safety and convenience. After plundering the Golden Triangle, it was always a simple case of a quick sortie to Hong Kong for his reward. In the drugs business, mathematics becomes a primary obsession. Even for a naive, too-trusting dealer like Chun, who stumbles into the dangerous trade after being a vehicle repair worker and later a worker in an electrical appliance store in Kunming, denominations and dollars were big topics. According to police experts, Chun, like the majority of the territory's drug bosses, had the capacity to turn each of his 10-kilogram bundles into three kilograms of premium heroin. It would then likely be diluted with many ingredients, for no addict can withstand the deathly spin of the real stuff. By all accounts, Chun's gear, straight-up, was 98 per cent proof. In Hong Kong, the same $5,000 parcel would sell for up to $1,250,000 if distributed correctly. But if Chun took the extra effort and risk in moving it across the Atlantic to New York, the three kilograms of drugs could fetch a staggering $25 million. And there is evidence of his international talents. No long-priced horse or share plunge can deliver such returns: a $5,000 investment transformed in a matter of weeks or months into a certain $1,250,000; with a chance of $25 million, give or take a few bribes and middlemen taking their slice of the action. Against this backdrop of super wealth, Chun's amazing story of heroin supply, which went unchecked for six years, is sobering. More than this, his run at the top of the drug tree is a story in naivety and chance. After starting dealing in 1988 from his small store through friends on the Burmese border, he soon got the lust to expand. Using a China visa, he visited Thailand in 1991 and 1993, paying 150,000 and 250,000 baht for two passports in the names of Sompin Eaempin and Saeung Suthep to smoothe his trips to the drug mountains. Although Chun was jailed in January for conspiring to traffic in 277 kilograms of heroin with a street value of at least $83 million, he admitted to police that his empire covered the world. He said in April 1993 he gave a 140 kilogram parcel to his dealers near the Tin Ho Motel in Guangzhou. In a video interview on January 30, 1994, recorded at the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau at Causeway Bay, Senior Inspector Lau unravelled the trail of drugs and money. 'How can such a large stock of narcotics be handed over in one go?' she asked Chun in a slightly disbelieving tone, staggered at the scale of trade. 'That was a carpark,' Chun replied matter of factly. 'He [the dealer] stopped the car by one side while we were in another car on the hill. 'At a time we mutually agreed, he would stop at an agreed place. After he had stopped, from where we were on the hill we looked at his [car] number and confirmed his arrival. Then the doors were opened. 'All [drugs] were put in bags and thrown into the car. Once thrown into the car, he [the dealer] would call his henchman's pager. Once the pager sounded he knew . . . it was all handed over at the carpark.' Chun went much further, later admitting he had sent drugs to: Holland - after buying the No 4 heroin consignment in Thailand, it would be hidden in air cargo and flown to Belgium. From there it was driven to the Eurpoean drugs enclave. In Christmas, 1993, a standard drop of 21 kilograms was dispatched. Canada - the same aviation tactics were used in drops to Toronto and there was seldom any risk of detection. In the busy Christmas period of 1993 Chun whisked off 26.6 kilograms. Hong Kong - from 1988, he visited the territory about five times each year, arranging for distribution. Although 1993 probably was the peak of his career, his two consignments - the 200 units (140 kilograms) at the Tin Ho Motel in April and 166 units (126.2 kilograms) in October gives a stunning example of the scale of his illegal estate. But his extraordinary wealth and a misplaced faith in his partners led to his demise. In his twilight years, Chun was a frightened man. He had run up too many debts, mainly because he gave large sums of credit to his distributors, those who ensured his heroin was peddled prodigiously in conjested, run-down housing estates and on street corners throughout the territory. When arrested, Chun was owed about $10 million. Intoxicated by his position and prestige, he had also succumbed to the allure of gambling. Betting only in huge multiples, Chun had lost a fortune on the tables, legal and illegal, in Thailand and Macau. On his last venture to Thailand he was ambushed, perhaps by gunmen sponsored by his debtors. He took two bullets in the back of the head, fired from a .38 calibre pistol. But miraculously he survived and his attackers, keen to escape, did not bother to inspect what they figured was a corpse. Chun, armed himself at the time, was lucky once again. Deranged and clutching his bloodied scalp, he stumbled into a taxi and rushed to a hospital. He was treated by doctors with a minimum of fuss and few questions. Apparently, gun wounds do not create great surprise in Bangkok's emergency rooms. It was in this panicky state that Chun, still on medication, decided to quit business and run for cover; his quest for self-preservation overriding his quest for cash. He came to Hong Kong to negotiate one last payment deal with his buyers. But at some stage he decided to get out for good and booked a one-way ticket on Aeroflot to Budapest, via Moscow. He told police he hoped to be hidden in his brother's Chinese restaurant in the hope he would be out of the reach of the triads in eastern Europe. But he underestimated his other pursuers, the police, who had earlier taken him in for questioning during one of his visits to dealers in Hong Kong, just to turn up the heat. After this encounter, Chun's travel was to be monitored by the Narcotics Bureau and the extent of his transactions emerged. 'The first time we got him, he was like a murder suspect. He said nothing,' Senior Inspector Lau recalled. 'But when we arrested him at the airport he was so relieved. As they say, he sang like a bird . . . he just kept talking. 'In court, it was not so easy for the jury to understand his position at the time of his arrest. Obviously they had never been in a desperate situation like he was in. 'But he had had a really bad year. His buyers had refused to pay him and he had been shot by unknown people. He didn't know who to take revenge on. 'He had a lot of burden,' said Ms Lau, 30, who after joining the force in 1985 as a constable, has risen through the ranks, spending the past five years tackling drugs. 'Chun Yeung is certainly one of the biggest cases. 'It is a pity in this matter that we were never able to secure the drugs, but we did get a conviction and the money.' Chun's career started humbly enough. But his rise demonstrates how easy it is for determined trafficers to move drugs around the world . . . and how ultimately hazardous.