US 'dragon-head' arrested

THE alleged head of the notorious Fuk Ching gang - one of the most wanted men in the United States - appeared in a Hong Kong court yesterday facing extradition to New York on murder charges.

Kwok Ling-kay, 27, arrested in the territory on Friday night, is charged with one count each of conspiracy to murder and attempted murder, and two counts of murder in connection with an inter-gang dispute in New York's Chinatown earlier this year.

Kwok is believed to have been the ''dragon-head'' who organised the ill-fated illegal immigrant voyage on the Golden Venture freighter ship which ran aground off New York.

A second alleged Fuk Ching member, Li Xing-hua, was also in court yesterday facing extraditable charges, although the cases are not believed to be connected. Both men were arrested in what one police officer described as a ''very smooth'' operation in separate residences on Hong Kong Island.

The officer would not discuss the case, but said the investigation was ''actively ongoing'' and further arrests were possible.

Kwok, also known as Guo Liangchi and Ah Kay, has been named by the American Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) as the alleged mastermind behind a massive influx of Chinese illegal immigrants to the US this year.

Investigators believe he was responsible for organising the voyage of the Golden Venture, the rusty Honduran-registered freighter that ran aground off New York in June with 300 illegal Chinese immigrants on board.

It was the plight of that ship, in which up to 10 people died as they tried to scramble ashore, following a spate of landings and arrests, that led President Bill Clinton to step up measures to stop the human cargo smugglers.

US authorities have long suspected the alleged dragon-head of the Fuk Ching passed through Hong Kong on his way to the US, and that he used the territory as part of his alleged smuggling operation.

Kwok was arrested on Friday night by an Interpol officer who was supported by members of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau (OCTB) in the execution of a warrant, and appeared in Western Court yesterday morning.

The OCTB became involved in the case because of the serious nature of the offences and the allegations that the alleged dragon-head is a violent man.

Kwok is believed to have put up only minimal resistance when arrested. No weapons, drugs or large amounts of money were found during the raid.

One US source said Kwok was trying to smuggle himself into New York to collect the money he had allegedly made from his gang operations, including illegal immigrant smuggling.

The alleged gang leader is believed to have first been identified by US officials in Operation Dragon, a federal task force set up to monitor immigrant smuggling.

Kwok is thought to have entered Hong Kong recently from China, where he had allegedly been hiding in a walled complex, protected by guards armed with shotguns, near Fuzhou in Fujian province.

However, it is not known what nationality passport he is using or how he entered the territory.

He was originally arrested in the US in 1985 after threatening to kill a restaurant owner, and was jailed for 21/2 years before being deported to China.

Investigators believe he slipped back into the US in 1989 to take over as head of the Fuk Ching.

The Fuk Ching is a small triad, based in New York's Chinatown near the Manhattan Bridge, but has earned a reputation for being a ruthless gang involved in drugs, gambling and prostitution.

According to US sources, Kwok fled back to China after a gang fight in January in which two members of the Fuk Ching were shot dead after they tried to set up a splinter group following a dispute over proceeds of human smuggling profits.

Senior assistant Crown prosecutor Andrew Bruce appeared for the US Government and the Attorney-General, before magistrate Hugh Sinclair.

Appearing in a separate case yesterday was the other suspected triad member, who is also wanted in the US for crimes allegedly committed in New York's Chinatown on March 6.

Li, 21, who is also suspected of belonging to the Fuk Ching, is wanted for charges including kidnap, assault with a deadly weapon, and use of a firearm.

The two cases were adjourned to Wednesday for extradition proceedings to begin in Eastern Court, and both Kwok and Li were remanded in jail custody.