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Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was offered asylum by North Korea just before the US invasion in 2003. The intermediary was a Macau casino magnate. Photo: AFP

Three strange links between Macau, North Korea: from Saddam Hussein to customs chief’s death

Casino deals, asylum offer for the Iraqi dictator and an unexplained demise

North Korea


In 1999, Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun opened a HK$233 million casino in Pyongyang next to the Communist Party headquarters. The development was built after Hong Kong’s Emperor Group chairman, Albert Yeung Sau-shing, received an exclusive casino licence to operate in North Korea in 1996, which he sold in part to Ho.


A few days before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Pyongyang offered asylum to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein saying it would give him and his family a mountain to live on. The unexpected intermediary was Macau casino magnate Stanley Ho.

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North Korean senior officials “told me there really was a chance to prevent a war, and said Saddam Hussein could step down two days before the US and Britain started to bomb and he could call democratic elections,” Ho said. A source said Kim Jong-nam was friends with Hussein’s two sons, who were killed in a battle that year. Hussein, who did not take North Korea’s offer, was executed in 2006.


The death of a Macau customs chief in 2015 has inspired several theories; one that gained traction involves North Korea. Lai Man-wa was found in a public toilet with her head covered with a plastic bag, slashes to her wrists and neck, sleeping pills and a razor blade in her handbag.

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The police ruled out homicide, but some speculate her death was linked to a seizure of valuable – and protected – agarwood at the airport. North Korea was trying to sell the wood on the international market, so the theory goes, and reacted violently to its seizure.