Two Hong Kong companies named as hub of international drugs and human trafficking ring
US Treasury slaps sanctions on mainland-born businessman it says is kingpin of operation based around casino in Laos
American investigators on Wednesday identified two Hong Kong companies as the operational hub of a “horrendous” international criminal organisation which runs drugs, traffics people and launders money.
US Treasury Department officials named mainland-born businessman Zhao Wei, who runs a casino in Laos, as the crime network’s kingpin, slapping sanctions on him, his wife and a number of companies and individuals they said were key members of his organisation.
Zhao – also a Macau SAR passport holder – and his wife, Su Guiqin, are directors of Kings Romans International (HK) Company Limited, whose registered office is in Wan Chai. They also control a second Hong Kong firm with an office in Quarry Bay.
Both offices were deserted on Wednesday.
The investigation, in which treasury officials worked with agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration, found that together those two companies were “the prime entities” through which Zhao’s network operates.
Zhao owns the Kings Romans Casino in Laos’ Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, over which he exerts de facto control, according to the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
“Zhao Wei engages in extensive bribery to facilitate money laundering, narcotics trafficking and wildlife trafficking at the Kings Romans Casino,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.
It added that Su, also a Chinese national, offered “material support” and moved money on behalf of the network.
The statement said all assets of the companies and individuals involved – including Zhao, Su and the casino – under US jurisdiction were frozen. US nationals were barred from doing business with them.
“The Zhao Wei crime network engages in an array of horrendous illicit activities, including human trafficking and child prostitution, drug trafficking, and wildlife trafficking,” it added.
Sigal Mandelker, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said: “We are targeting key figures in this transnational criminal organisation, which stretches from the Kings Romans Casino in Laos throughout Southeast Asia.
“OFAC is designating the Zhao Wei network, as part of a broader strategy to disrupt the financial infrastructure of transnational criminal organisations that pose a threat to the United States and our allies.”
The nine-year-old casino – built largely to cater to tourists from southern China – is not far from where 13 Chinese sailors on two drugs-laden cargo ships were murdered in 2011, the deadliest assault on Chinese nationals overseas in modern times.
The US said the criminal network organises the storage and distribution of heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs for illicit networks.
Since 2014, Thai, Laotian and Chinese authorities have seized large drug shipments that have been traced to the casino.
Hong Kong police have yet to respond to a request for comment.
Additional reporting by AFP