ANI Photo | Report cites how new face of Chinese investment in Myanmar represents criminalisation of country

The rise of Wan Kuok Koi — popularly known as ‘Broken Tooth’— and the enterprises run by him and his associates represent the new face of Chinese investment in Myanmar—and the criminalization of the country under the current junta, The Irrawaddy reported.
Wan Kuok Koi, was arrested in May 1998 in connection with a bomb explosion in a minivan. He was incarcerated in a purpose-built top-security detention facility on Coloane.
Even though no evidence of his involvement in that attack was ever revealed in court. Instead, he was brought to justice on old charges related to intimidation of employees at the Lisboa Casino in Macau, loan-sharking and suspicion of being a member of “an illegal organization”.
In plain language, that meant a triad, the secret societies that are the Chinese equivalent of the Mafia, The Irrawady reported.
After a lengthy and complicated trial—where one witness after another was struck by sudden bouts of amnesia and could not remember anything—he was nonetheless sentenced to 15 years in prison and had all his assets confiscated in November 1999.
This came a month before Macau reverted to Chinese rule and became, like Hong Kong, a “Special Administrative Region” (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China.
Among the many outlandish ventures Wan was accused of running, and made public by jurists during the trial, was a weapons business in Cambodia, where he allegedly sought to trade in rockets, missiles, tanks, armored vehicles and other kinds of military equipment in the then civil war-wracked country.
Using his old connections, Wan nestled himself back into the casino business in Macau and, after a few years, launched a cryptocurrency called ‘Dragon Coin’.
He also established three entities operating out of Cambodia: The Hongmen History and Culture Association; the Dongmei Group, which is officially headquartered in Hong Kong; and the Palau China Hung-Mun Cultural Association, supposedly based in the Pacific Ocean nation Palau.
Citing December 9, 2020 statement by the US Treasury Department, The Irrawaddy reported that Hongmen History and Culture Association in particular soon spread its influence across Southeast Asia, first in Cambodia—and then in Myanmar.
Wan’s Dongmei Group is a major investor in the casino enclaves near Myawaddy that were established after a faction of the Karen National Union and its Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) broke away, entered into ceasefire agreements with the Myanmar military, and became a Border Guard Force (BGF).
Wan is also known to be involved in projects in Mong Pawk southeast of the Panghsang (Pangkham) headquarters of the United Wa State Army on the border between Myanmar and China.
According to a July 2020 report by the United States Institute of Peace, “The Dongmei Company itself appears to have incorporated as a business in Hong Kong on March 3, 2020, but is operating out of Kuala Lumpur. Wan promotes the project through the official public WeChat of the Hongmen Association, as well as in partnership with a Guangdong-based representative of the Huaguan Holding Company.”
It is evident that Wan has powerful connections and is protected by high-level officials in China.
Citing a researcher who is following developments in Myanmar’s frontier areas, The Irrawaddy stated, “Wan Kuok Koi clearly has tremendous influence across China, Hong Kong and Macau, close relations with the local government in Guangdong province, and very deep ties with the [Chinese Communist] Party’s united front organizations and Overseas Chinese Associations. In my view, the Party sees him as useful in doing a lot of its political work—both in Hong Kong and Macau, and in Southeast Asia more broadly.”
It is quite surprising how it has been possible for a former convicted felon and alleged leader of an organized crime group to become an influential and seemingly untouchable business tycoon.
links between officialdom and secret societies became obvious to the outside world in the run-up to Hong Kong’s return to the “motherland”, which eventually happened in 1997.
On April 8, 1993, Tao Siju, chief of China’s Public Security Bureau, gave an informal press conference to a group of local reporters in the then still British territory. After making it clear that the “counter-revolutionaries” who had demonstrated for democracy in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 would not have their long prison sentences reduced, he began talking about the triads: “As for organizations like the triads in Hong Kong, as long as they are patriotic, as long as they are concerned with Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, we should unite with them.” Tao also invited “the patriotic triads” to come to China to set up businesses there.
The statement sent shockwaves through Hong Kong’s then professional police force and there was an uproar in the still independent media.
Before Hong Kong was handed over to Beijing, and people could demonstrate their support for pro-democracy groups inside China, certain “patriotic triads” were considered Beijing’s eyes and ears in the territory. They infiltrated trade unions and even the media and reported their findings back to the authorities inside China, The Irrawaddy reported.
In July 2019, by which time Hong Kong had been a supposedly self-governing SAR for more than two decades and local people were demanding democratic reforms, masked men equipped with wooden sticks and metal rods stormed into a train station in Hong Kong, assaulting people returning home from a pro-democracy protest.
In other incidents, thugs were seen beating up pro-democracy demonstrators and removing tents and barriers they had set up. Needless to say, no action was taken against the perpetrators.
Like many other Chinese organized crime figures, Wan too has humble roots. Born in the slums of Macau in 1955, he joined at an early age one of the many violent youth gangs in the territory and reportedly still bears scars from his street-fighting days. He was shot and wounded twice and severely injured when he was attacked by a rival gang armed with meat cleavers. He lost several teeth in another fight, which earned him the nickname “Broken Tooth Koi”, Irrawaddy reported.
He later rose through the ranks of the street gangs and became a full-fledged member of the 14K triad and eventually became the boss of its Macau chapter. As such, he commanded a band of several hundred young ma jai, or “horse boys”, which ran various street protection and extortion rackets that sometimes led to gunslinging turf wars with rival gangs.
Interests in Myanmar’s frontier areas form an important part of his intricate network of overseas enterprises—but international public and private investigators tracking his activities are not convinced of what he claims to be benevolent pursuits of happiness. In Cambodia, Wan claims to be involved only in the establishment of schools where people can learn more about “Chinese culture”.
The US Treasury believes otherwise and claimed in that statement issued on December 9, 2020 that he is “a leader of the 14K triad” which engages in “drug trafficking, illegal gambling, racketeering” as well as “bribery, corruption and graft.”
The Treasury Department went on to accuse him of “corruption, including misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gains, and corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources.”
At the same time, the Treasury Department blacklisted and imposed sanctions on Wan’s three main enterprises: the World Hongmen History and Culture Association, the Palau China Hung-Mun Cultural Association and the Dongmei Group.Shwe Kokko soon became a hub for all kinds of illegal activities and Wan’s networks are engaged in lucrative pursuits in the Huanya International City and the Saixigang Industrial Zone as well, The Irrawaddy reported.  
Casinos are perfect vehicles for money laundering, and cross-border smuggling is rampant.
All these developments should serve as a warning to Western peacemakers who have repeatedly lauded various ceasefire agreements between some ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and the Myanmar military, the most extensive being the so-called “Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement” concluded in 2015.
“A ceasefire agreement with only promises of business opportunities—which so far has been all that the Myanmar military has promised the EAOs—and no political settlement can only lead to one thing: the border rebels become border bandits. It is, as we have seen across the border at Mae Sot, a recipe for disaster,” The Irrawaddy reported.
According to The Irrawaddy, China’s role in this imbroglio appears ambivalent. When Myanmar still had democratically elected members of parliament, the scams and rackets in Shwe Kokko were raised by civilian politicians and questions were asked during public hearings in Naypyitaw.
In June 2020, a tribunal was even set up to investigate the Yatai New City in Shwe Kokko and developments there were halted—at least temporarily. After the 2021 coup, investors in Yatai New City were allowed to resume their construction activities, expanding the area and their range of criminal enterprises.
The Chinese Embassy in Yangon also expressed its “support” for the then government’s efforts to investigate Yatai New City, saying in a statement that China was “strengthening law enforcement and security with Myanmar” to crack down on “cross-border illegal and criminal activities such as illegal gambling and telecommunications fraud.”
But it was far from clear that Beijing had any intention of pursuing the well-connected Wan on any of the various accusations made by the US Treasury Department.
Some of Wan’s old associates are back in prison in Macau, serving time in the Coloane facility for money laundering and racketeering. Wan may also have to stay clear of his old Macau stomping ground, where he is too well-known and anything he did would be embarrassing for the local SAR authorities. But Cambodia and Myanmar are not a problem, and his interests there coincide with those of China.
Citing the USIP report, the Irrawaddy reported that Chinese state-owned companies such as the China Railway 20th Bureau, which has investments in construction projects outside China, and MCC International, another company involved in infrastructure projects, are working closely together with the Yatai New City project. Guojing Consulting, an affiliate of official think-tank the Center for International Economic Exchanges, has signed a partnership agreement with Yatai New City. All those endeavors are part and parcel of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor and Beijing’s BRI.
Wan and enterprises run by him and his associates represent the new face of Chinese investment in Myanmar—and the criminalization of the country under the current junta.
“Not only have construction activities at Shwe Kokko, or the Yatai New City, resumed, but the Huanya International City and the Saixigang Industrial Zone have also seen a revival, with criminal networks running new areas and an even wider range of enterprises. The impact of those developments, and the possibility of more potentially disastrous “ceasefire agreements” between some EAOs and the military, could, in the long term, turn Myanmar into a failed state where only China would be able to pick up the spoils,” The Irrawaddy stated.
And with the outside world preoccupied with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there seems to be little hope of Myanmar regaining some of the international attention it once had.

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