The US Treasury Department has targeted the operator of a Laotian casino for alleged involvement in widespread trafficking in narcotics, wildlife and human beings.
On Tuesday, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) brought the hammer down on what it called the Zhao Wei Transnational Criminal Organization (Zhao Wei TCO).
A Chinese national, Zhao Wei is co-owner of the Kings Roman Casino (pictured) in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GTSEZ) near Laos’ borders with both Thailand and Myanmar. The GTSEZ is a joint venture between Zhao and the Laotian government, which is said to hold a 20% stake, and is widely considered a hub for all manner of forbidden fruit.
The OFAC says the Zhao Wei TCO uses the Kings Roman Casino to store and distribute heroin, methamphetamine and other narcotics. Since 2014, Thai, Lao and Chinese authorities have seized large narcotics shipments that have been traced back to the casino.
The TCO also “permits and promotes” human trafficking and child prostitution via its GTSEZ operations, and also traffics in endangered wildlife, including Asiatic black bears, pangolin, tigers, rhinos and elephants.
Zhao Wei reportedly used to operate another casino in Mong La, Myanmar’s ‘vice city.’ In 2007, Zhao Wei inked a 99-year lease on the GTSEZ property, which spans roughly 3k hectares. Kings Roman and the GTSEZ’s other attractions cater to an overwhelmingly Chinese audience.
In addition to Zhao Wei, the TCO also involves his wife, Guiqin Su, a director of Kings Roman International (HK) Ltd, who allegedly moves money on behalf of the TCO. Abbas Eberahim, an Australian national who oversees security at the Kings Roman Casino, has allegedly engaged in bribery on behalf of the TCO, while Thai national Nat Rungtawankhiri is accused of moving money and providing material support for the TCO.
The OFAC has frozen all assets under US jurisdiction belonging to these four individuals and three related companies, and all US persons are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them.
Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said the designation of the Zhao Wei network was “part of a broader strategy to disrupt the financial infrastructure of transnational criminal organizations that pose a threat to the United States and our allies.”
In 2012, Laos shut down casinos operating in Boten, close to the border with China, reportedly after Beijing complained about rising numbers of its citizens being kidnapped and held for ransom after running up gambling debts.
Laos also has at least one casino on its border with Cambodia. The Savan Vegas Hotel & Entertainment Complex has been the subject of a multi-year legal fight after the Lao government booted its owner Macau-based Sanum Investments over alleged unpaid tax obligations and sold the property to Macau Legend Development.