Alleged crime boss dubbed ‘Asia’s El Chapo’ arrives in Australia

Extradited Chinese-Canadian suspect Tse Chi Lop, 59, said to head up the Asian mega-cartel ‘Sam Gor’, or ‘The Company’.

Police officers stand guard as a transport arrives at the extra secure court in Rotterdam, on June 22, 2021, prior to the hearing on the extradition of Tse Chi Lop. - Tse Chi Lop, a Canadian of Chinese origin, was one of the most wanted drug criminals in the world and was arrested in January at Schiphol. (Photo by Robin UTRECHT / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT
Police officers stand guard at the 2021 extradition hearing in the Netherlands of Tse Chi Lop, a Canadian of Chinese origin, who is alleged to be one of the most wanted drug criminals in the world [File: Robin Utrecht/AFP]

The alleged boss of Asia’s biggest crime syndicate and one of the world’s most wanted men has been extradited to Australia and arrested on drug trafficking charges, police said.

Australian police said on Thursday that the suspect’s extradition from the Netherlands was the culmination of a long-running investigation into an organised crime syndicate known as “Sam Gor”, or “The Company”, that it says trafficked methamphetamine worth millions of dollars into Australia.

A person familiar with the case told Reuters that the suspect was Chinese-born Canadian citizen Tse Chi Lop, 59, who is suspected of being the leader of the Asian mega-cartel Sam Gor, which is believed to have laundered billions in drug money through casinos, hotels and real estate in Southeast Asia’s Mekong region.

Tse is expected to appear in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Thursday to answer a charge of being part of a “conspiracy to traffic commercial quantities of controlled drugs” totalling 20kg (44lbs) between 2012 and 2013.

Tse, dubbed Asia’s “El Chapo”, in reference to the notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman’s nickname, faces life imprisonment if convicted.

Tse was arrested at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in January 2021 by Dutch police after a decade-long hunt. He was held after Australian police requested that a most wanted Red Notice be issued by the international policing agency, Interpol.

Australian police have hailed the capture as “one of the most high-profile arrests in the history” of the country.

“We allege this male is the head of a large transnational organised crime syndicate,” Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Krissy Barrett said, adding that the arrest came after a “very complex investigation”.

“By their very nature, these very senior figures within the syndicates obviously deliberately stay hands-off in terms of the business dealings,” she said.

“That’s why it’s such a significant arrest and why it has taken a fair amount of time.”

Australian police said the charges relate to a specific 2012-2013 operation that involved transferring drugs from Melbourne to Sydney. A police sting at the time nabbed 27 people and netted methamphetamine with a street value of about 4.4 million Australian dollars ($3m).

“The hard work of investigators, and the (Australian Federal Police) international network, has enabled these alleged offenders to be charged and face the justice system in Australia,” Barrett said.

Reuters reported in 2019 that Tse was the prime target of Operation Kungur, an Australian-led investigation involving about 20 agencies from Asia, North America and Europe.

The United Nations’ narcotics agency estimated the Sam Gor syndicate’s revenue from methamphetamine in 2018 was about $8bn for the year, but said it could be as high as $17.7bn, with a 40 percent to 70 percent share of the wholesale regional methamphetamine market that has expanded at least four-fold in the past five years.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies