‘Asia’s El Chapo’ Doesn’t Want to be Tried in Australia

Tse Chi Lop has also been compared to Pablo Escobar, but he denies he’s a drug kingpin at all.
June 23, 2021, 5:52am
armed police
A police officer stands 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 – previously one of the most wanted drug criminals in the world. Photo by 
Robin UTRECHT / ANP / AFP

He was previously described as “Asia’s most-wanted man.” Now Tse Chi Lop, an alleged drug kingpin who authorities have described as “Asia’s El Chapo,” is fighting extradition to Australia.

The Chinese-born Canadian national was arrested at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in January, while in transit from Taiwan to Canada, based on allegations that he was the “multinational CEO” of an international drug syndicate known as “The Company” or “Sam Gor”. The organisation allegedly 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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Tse, 57, is wanted in Australia in particular for his connection to Operation Volante, an investigation that was led by Australian Federal Police (AFP) and involved law enforcement agencies from China, Macau, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Hong Kong. 

AFP has been working with the Attorney-General’s Department since January to prepare a formal extradition request so they can charge Tse for his alleged crimes – all of which he has denied. Tse's lawyers argue, however, that he would not get a fair trial in Australia, and further claim that the AFP illegally arranged for Tse’s expulsion from Taiwan to Canada to stop over in the Netherlands so that he could be arrested there, because of the country’s favourable extradition laws.

“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. “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.”

Following Tse’s court hearing on Tuesday, Seebregts also told Reuters that “if Australia was involved in inappropriately turning my client over to the Netherlands, his fair trial rights have already been violated.” He also asked judges to investigate the circumstances of the arrest before deciding on extradition. 

The AFP has so far declined to comment on the extradition proceedings.

The Rotterdam court is expected to rule on the extradition request, or order additional investigations into the circumstances of Tse’s arrest, on July 2.

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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, is quoted in a 2019 Reuters 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.”

It was previously alleged that The Company was responsible for as much as 70 percent of the illegal drugs being funnelled into Australia – predominantly methamphetamine, heroin and ketamine.

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