‘Asia’s El Chapo’, One of the World’s Most Wanted Men, Has Been Arrested

Drug baron Tse Chi Lop ran a multinational crime syndicate that made $17 billion a year funnelling meth and heroin into the Asia-Pacific.
January 25, 2021, 3:12am
handcuffed drugs
Photos by Getty,  Choochart Choochaikupt / EyeEm (L) and ANTHONY WALLACE / Contributor (R)

Tse Chi Lop, one of the world’s most-wanted fugitives and a man who’s been described as “Asia’s El Chapo”, was arrested in Amsterdam on Friday.

The 57-year-old, Chinese-born Canadian national is alleged to have headed up an international drug syndicate known as “The Company” or “Sam Gor”: an organisation that dominated Asia-Pacific’s $70 billion-a-year drug trade, moving huge quantities of illicit substances into countries across the region including Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

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It’s thought that The Company is responsible for as much as 70 percent of the illegal drugs that are funnelled into Australia—predominantly methamphetamine, heroin and ketamine. And yet the head of the snake, Tse, has evaded the clutches of local and international authorities for decades.

That is, until last week, when he was detained by Dutch authorities at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as he prepared to board a flight to Canada. Tse was detained at the request of Australian Federal Police, who led a years-long investigation into his activities and are now seeking to extradite him.

“The syndicate targeted Australia over a number of years, importing and distributing large amounts of illicit narcotics, laundering the profits overseas and living off the wealth obtained from crime,” the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said in a statement. Dutch police spokesman Thomas Aling further noted that Tse “was already on the most wanted list and he was detained based on intelligence we received.”

His arrest represents a major coup, not just for Australian police but for authorities the world over. The United Nations previously reported that The Company rakes in as much as $17 billion a year from drug supply and distribution networks criss-crossing the Asia-Pacific region. Anti-narcotics officials have claimed that the criminal syndicate, forged from an alliance of five of Asia’s triad groups, is more sophisticated than any Latin American cartel. And a Taiwanese law enforcement flowchart identified Tse as its “Multinational CEO”. 

In a 2019 special report, Reuters described him as “Asia’s most-wanted man”.

Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, is quoted in that report as saying that “Tse Chi Lop is in the league of El Chapo or maybe Pablo Escobar. The word kingpin often gets thrown around, but there is no doubt it applies here.”

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For the most part, Tse maintained a much more discreet and inconspicuous lifestyle than his Latin American equivalents, flying under the radar by steering clear of the violent conflicts, saber-rattling and cash-splashing that’s typically associated with billionaire drug barons. There were, however, some exceptions to his coy and modest lifestyle.

AFP investigators told Reuters that Tse would host lavish birthday parties each year at five-star resorts and hotels, flying in his family and entourage in private jets. He is believed to have once spent about $66 million in a single night at a casino in Macau. And both at home and abroad, the otherwise unassuming kingpin was often protected by a guard of up to eight Thai kickboxers at a time.

The multi-national investigation that finally brought Tse down, Operation Volante, involved law enforcement agencies from China, Macau, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Hong Kong. The AFP are now working with the Attorney-General’s Department to prepare a formal extradition request in order to charge him for his crimes.

It is as yet unclear whether Tse has a lawyer, and Dutch police were unable to provide further details about the legal proceedings.

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