Grand mafia-style funeral for boss of Taiwanese gang

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 October, 2007, 12:00am

Taiwanese watched with a mixture of fascination and fear as the body of a high-profile gang leader was flown home from Hong Kong yesterday for an elaborate family funeral.

Columns of 'men in black' were seen gathering at the island's international airport yesterday morning for the return of the body of Bamboo Union gang boss Chen Chi-li, who died earlier this month in Hong Kong of pancreatic cancer at the age of 63.

In a scene reminiscent of a mafia movie, the eldest son of the late gang boss held a tablet bearing the name of his father, while his second son carried his father's portrait in the company of eight triad leaders and hundreds of men clad in black.

Chen's wife, Chen Yi-fan, his sons and other relatives were whisked from the airport lounge to a line of black limousines taking them to Taipei where a temporary funeral venue was set up for mourners to pay respects to the late boss.

More than 20 tour buses packed with 'friends and relatives' of the late gang leader were lined up outside the airport to wait for the return of the body of Chen, seen as the 'eternal spiritual leader' of the Bamboo Union gang.

The family spent NT$2 million (HK$475,000) to charter a China Airlines Airbus plane to transport the body, plus friends and relatives to Taiwan. A public funeral will be held on November 4.

According to local news media, the family was spending at least NT$20 million to make sure Chen's funeral was held in grand style. A huge picture of Chen when he was middle aged was placed at the centre of the yesterday's venue, where hundreds of thousands of white orchids were flanked by bamboo.

More than 1,000 police were assigned to monitor and videotape the movements of the mourners, a number of whom are 'big brothers' of local gangs.

Taiwan's cable news network TVBS said to ensure no gang fights erupted, police had warned the Bamboo Union, the largest gang in Taiwan, and other triad societies to keep the number of mourners in check. They also demanded that the mourners not wear uniforms showing their gang names, nor carry any signs or emblems to identify their gangs.

Chen's death and the return of his body have been given extensive media coverage in Taiwan, with President Chen Shui-bian criticising the media for portraying him as a hero.

The gang boss was made famous for his killing of Taiwanese American writer Henry Liu in San Francisco in 1984. Court records showed Chen Chi-li acted on orders from then military intelligence chief Wang Hsi-ling to kill Liu, who was writing a biography said to be highly critical of then president Chiang Ching-kuo.

Chen was sentenced to life in jail but was allowed to post bail in 1991 following two amnesty programmes. He fled to Cambodia in 1996 and came to Hong Kong last year for cancer treatment and died on October 4.