Forex man linked to casino ship

A MAN now sought by police after disappearing following the collapse of a foreign exchange company in June has been linked to the ownership of the casino aboard the ill-fated New Orient Princess.

Police sources said the man, identified as K. K. Leung, was believed to be one of the key shareholders behind the high-stakes casino on the ship, now smouldering off Tseung Kwan O.

Leung, a keen gambler, is wanted by police following a scam which may have defrauded 250 clients of more than $55 million.

He was listed as a director in the company, EGI International, which had been investing in deutschemarks and yen out of offices in Exchange Square, liaising with investors in New York's Chinatown.

Meanwhile, arson has not yet been ruled out as a cause for the fire aboard the Panamanian-registered ship, while police gather information on vice activities surrounding the industry to back a possible Government crackdown.

Police believe the Sun Yee On had been heavily involved in casino ships, providing loan-sharking services and protection rackets.

A Fire Services Department spokesman said yesterday he could not rule out the possibility of arson but no evidence suggesting criminal conduct had yet been uncovered.

The spokesman said the Director of Fire Services could order a fuller inquiry on examination of initial investigators through the burnt-out hull.

''We have to compile a report to the director of fire services to see whether an in-depth investigation should be carried out,'' he said.

Investigations would continue this week on board the ship and with the taking of sworn statements from witnesses.

Senior officers of the ship could face suspension or revocation of their licences if inquiries find them to have been negligent.

American shipping-accident investigator Captain Joseph Fox, acting for Panama's New York-based Directorate of Consular and Maritime Affairs, said in Hong Kong yesterday that the ship's master and chief engineer were among those he wanted to interview.

The Panamanian-registered ship, which takes gambling voyages into international waters from Hong Kong, was gutted by a blaze which is thought to have broken out in the ship's sauna last Wednesday morning.

The 4,800-tonne ship is beached at Fat Tong Chau near Tsueng Kwan O. It burned for three days before the blaze was extinguished on Friday night.

Captain Fox, who arrived in Hong Kong on Saturday night, said interviews with the ship's officers, crew and passengers, particularly those in the sauna that morning, would be crucial to determining the fire's cause.

Only two crewmen were slightly hurt when 500 people were evacuated from the ship.

''Here there was no loss of life so the worst that can happen is the revocation of a licence,'' Captain Fox said.

His report on the incident would be sent to the directorate and passed on to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in London for their records. Any action against individuals would be taken by the directorate.

''The key for me is to interview the individuals that were on the ship and we're trying to get a passenger list to see who was in the sauna at the time,'' Captain Fox said. ''The passengers can give us an unbiased view.'' Marine Department officials met Mr Fox yesterday and confirmed a passenger list was being drawn up.

''If they are not in Hong Kong we can request them back to Hong Kong for interview,'' said the department's senior surveyor, Yeung Tat-chuen, who is in charge of preliminary inquiries into the incident.

Mr Fox said he and Hong Kong authorities would hold a joint investigation, to be carried out under the auspices of the IMO. He hoped to board the ship with a Fire Services Department investigator as soon as possible.

The Fire Services Department spokesman said fire officers wearing breathing apparatus had entered the ship's upper decks over the weekend and had so far found no evidence of arson.

Fire-fighting tugs continued yesterday to spray water over the smoking wreck to cool it down, but the ship's lower decks, which housed the crew's quarters, were still too hot to be inspected.

''At this moment we don't think it's an arson case,'' the spokesman said. A report on the fire would be handed to the director of fire services and would take at least a month to finalise.

Captain Fox would not give a time frame for his investigations but said he wanted to carry them out as quickly as possible. He did not think the incident would lead to a Marine Court of Inquiry.