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15 Okt 2022

Nathan Paul Southern and Lindsey Kennedy, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

Laos: Golden Triangle Economic Zone run by Chinese triad leader suspected of running brothels and online scams, and trafficking humans, animal parts and drugs

"Laos’ criminal casino empire: Chinese gangsters suspected of running brothels and online scams, and trafficking humans, animal parts and drugs" 15 October 2022

The first time Seng saw someone jump to their death was from the window of his dorm, in a gated compound where armed guards patrolled outside, making sure no one escaped. [...] The Laotian man in his mid-20s faced this ordeal before his release in May after six months in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GTSEZ), a sealed-off gambling town that centres on the Kings Romans Casino, in a remote corner of northwestern Laos, run by the notorious Chinese gangster Zhao Wei. Laos treats the area like an autonomous state, subject to its own rules, which runs on Chinese time, and where the main languages and currency used are also Chinese.

The GTSEZ is situated in the heart of the Golden Triangle, where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet at the Mekong River. The area was once a major producer of opium and heroin (a fallout from the Vietnam war, when the trade exploded to meet demand from American troops) and, according to Vice magazine, it is now one of the world’s biggest methamphetamine factories. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recording more than one billion meth pills seized in East and Southeast Asia last year. [...]

At the time, SEZs such as these, which are supposed to function as self-contained, trade-boosting industrial estates (with tax exemptions, special labour rules and one-stop shops for customs processing), seemed like a lifeline for Laos’ economy. But allegations swiftly mounted that Zhao was using Kings Romans to traffic heroin and methamphetamines, launder money and “permit and promote” child sexual exploitation, prompting a decision by the US Treasury to place him and his wife, Su Guiqin, under Magnitsky sanctions in 2018.

The Magnitsky Act allows the US government and its allies to freeze the assets of human rights abusers, and bar them and their companies from using the US banking system. In a press conference in 2018, Zhao dismissed the accusations against him as groundless. [...]

The Chinese embassy in Vientiane and the Laos Ministry of Planning and Investment, which promotes investments into SEZs, did not respond to a request for comment. Repeated phone calls and emails to the Kings Romans Casino went unanswered. [...]