A vast drugs Asian drugs syndicate, which is wealthy, disciplined and less violent than Latin America’s cartels has become the prime target of a sprawling, previously unreported counter-narcotics operation, according to a new Reuters investigation.
The suspected leader of the multinational drugs trafficking syndicate, protected by a guard of Thai kickboxers, is Tse Chi Lop, a China-born Canadian citizen.
The elusive Mr Tse, said to be on a par with Latin America’s legendary drugs traffickers “El Chapo” and Pablo Escobar, is being investigated in connection with a network formed out of an alliance of five of Asia’s triad groups that allegedly smuggles methamphetamine, heroin and ketamine, said the newswire.
Known as “The Company” or “Sam Gor” after one of Mr Tse’s reported nicknames, which means “Brother Number Three” in Cantonese, the crime ring deals mainly in meth – a highly addictive drug that has devastating effects on long term users – and which it often conceals in packets of tea.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Sam Gor syndicate’s meth revenue in 2018 was at least $8 billion a year, but could be as high as $17.7 billion.
The UN agency estimates that the cartel has a 40% to 70% share of the wholesale regional meth market that has expanded at least fourfold in the past five years.
Lawmakers believe the drugs are being funneled to at least a dozen countries from Japan in North Asia to New Zealand in the South Pacific.
Sam Gor is believed to collaborate with a more diverse range of local crime groups than the Latin cartels do, including Japan’s Yakuza, Australia’s biker gangs and ethnic Chinese gangs across Southeast Asia.
The crime network is also less prone to uncontrolled outbreaks of internecine violence than their Latin counterparts, setting aside rivalries in pursuit of massive profits, police say.
The Reuters investigation uncovered that Mr Tse, 55, is the main focus of Operation Kungur, a massive transnational counter-narcotics case, led by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and drawing in about 20 agencies from Asia, North America and Europe.
It surpasses any other international effort to combat Asian drug trafficking syndicates, say law enforcement agents linked to the probe, and includes authorities from Burma, China, Thailand, Japan, the United States and Canada.
Taiwan, while not formally part of the operation, is assisting in the investigation.
An AFP document reveals that the organisation has “been connected with or directly involved in at least 13 cases” of drug trafficking since January 2015, and names Mr Tse as the suspected ringleader, among the profiles of the operation’s top 19 targets.
Reuters was unable to contact Mr Tse. The AFP, US Drugs Enforcement Agency and Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau said they would not comment on investigations.