After Decades, ‘Asia’s El Chapo’ Has Finally Been Charged by Police

Tse Chi Lop allegedly headed an alliance of five of Asia’s triad groups, that was more sophisticated than any Latin American cartel.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
20221222 Extradition 5
Alleged drug kingpin Tse Chi Lop arr

Asia’s former most-wanted man cuts an improbable figure. In contrast to the cold eyes and iconic facial hair of Pablo Escobar and El Chapo, to whom he’s been compared, 59-year-old Tse Chi Lop sports a clean face framed under a boyishly parted fringe. Yet he’s allegedly the “multinational CEO” of a $70 billion-a-year international drug syndicate known as “The Company,” or “Sam Gor”.


Tse, the alleged global drug kingpin, has been charged by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) after being extradited to Australia from the Netherlands. The Chinese-born Canadian will face a Melbourne court on Thursday over the specific charge of conspiracy to traffic commercial quantities of controlled drugs, based on allegations that he was part of a conspiracy to traffic a collective 20 kilograms of methamphetamine and its derivatives—worth an estimated $4.4 million—between March 2012 and March 2013.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Tse was arrested at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in January 2021, while in transit from Taiwan to Canada, and has been held in the Netherlands ever since. During that time he has made multiple unsuccessful appeals against his extradition, claiming that authorities illegally arranged for his transit from Taiwan to Canada to stop over in the Netherlands—which has relatively favourable extradition laws—so that he could be arrested there.

Tse, who has been compared to some of history’s most notorious drug lords, is wanted in Australia for his connection to Operation Volante, an investigation that was led by the AFP and involved law enforcement agencies from China, Macau, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Hong Kong. 

Tse’s arrest and extradition are the culmination of a decades long cat-and-mouse chase by authorities across the Asia-Pacific region. Anti-narcotics officials have claimed that Sam Gor, forged from an alliance of five of Asia’s triad groups, is more sophisticated than any Latin American cartel, and was at one point responsible for as much as 70 percent of the illegal drugs being funnelled into Australia—predominantly methamphetamine, heroin, and ketamine.


Despite Tse's lawyers arguing that he would not get a fair trial in Australia, the AFP have been working with the Attorney-General’s Department since early 2021 to prepare a formal extradition request so they could charge the kingpin for his alleged crimes—all of which he has denied. 

“What I believe is that Australian authorities played a role in sending him to the Netherlands so that they would limit his rights,” lawyer Andre Seebregts told CNN in June 2021. “If after he's been extradited for just this one crime, then if they ask for permission to prosecute him for more crimes, then a lifelong sentence without the possibility of parole becomes a very real possibility.”

AFP Assistant Commissioner Krissy Barrett said in a statement on Thursday that “many first responders, frontline workers and teachers, have harrowing accounts of dealing with individuals who have taken methamphetamine.”

“The AFP’s primary job is to keep Australians safe and protect Australia’s way of life,” she said. “The AFP will make Australia a hostile environment for all transnational serious organised crime syndicates that target our communities.”

Tse, for his part, maintained his innocence, and accused media commentators of falsely smearing his name. “Mass media are calling me a drug kingpin but that is not true,” he told court judges through interpreters, according to Dutch news agency ANP.

Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, however, noted that sheer scale of The Company’s transnational drug trafficking operations put him on par with some of the most notorious drug lords in recent history.

“Tse Chi Lop is in the league of El Chapo or maybe Pablo Escobar,” Douglas told Reuters in 2019. “The word kingpin often gets thrown around, but there is no doubt it applies here.”

Another man alleged to be a key lieutenant of Tse’s, Lee Chung Chak, 66, arrived in Australia in June after being extradited from Thailand, and was charged over the alleged importation of 42 kilograms of drugs, mainly methamphetamine, into Australia in 2012. The AFP allege that the dual Chinese-British national, who was arrested in Bangkok in October 2020, is one of Tse’s senior associates, and is responsible for shipping narcotics into Australia a decade ago.