AMSTERDAM/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Dutch police have arrested the alleged leader of a large Asian drug syndicate who is listed as one of the world’s most-wanted fugitives and has been compared to Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Tse Chi Lop, a Chinese-born Canadian national, was detained on Friday at the request of Australian police, who led an investigation that found his organisation dominates the $70 billion-a-year Asia-Pacific drug trade, Dutch police spokesman Thomas Aling said on Saturday.
Tse is expected to be extradited after appearing before a judge, Aling said, adding that his arrest by national police took place without incident at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
“He was already on the most-wanted list and he was detained based on intelligence we received,” Aling said.
Dutch police were unable to provide details about the legal proceedings and it was not clear if Tse had a lawyer.
Tse’s crime syndicate allegedly dominates the Asia-Pacific crystal methamphetamine trade, which increased fourfold in the five years to 2019, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Regional law enforcers say the syndicate has imported highly potent meth into more than a dozen countries, including Japan, Australia and New Zealand, as well as trafficking heroin and MDMA.
Tse, 57, an ex-convict who formerly lived in Toronto, has moved between Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan in recent years, according to counter-narcotics officers from four countries and documents reviewed by Reuters.
The group has “been connected with or directly involved in at least 13 cases” of drug trafficking since January 2015, the documents showed.
Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific representative for the UNODC, told Reuters in 2019 that “Tse Chi Lop is in the league of El Chapo or maybe Pablo Escobar,” referring to Latin America’s most notorious drug lords.
The UNODC estimated that Tse’s drug syndicate earned as much as $17 billion in 2018.
The syndicate he is suspected of running is known to its members as “The Company”. Law enforcers also refer to it as “Sam Gor” – or Brother Number Three in Cantonese – after one of Tse’s nicknames, Reuters reported at the time. Reuters was unable to contact Tse for comment on the report at that time.
‘THEY GOT THEIR MAN’
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said on Sunday it issued an arrest warrant for Tse in 2019, “in connection with AFP-led Operation Volante, which dismantled a global crime syndicate operating in five countries.”
The AFP also led an international investigation, dubbed Operation Kungur, into Tse and his syndicate that included about 20 agencies from more than a dozen countries.
“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 AFP added.
Documents reviewed by Reuters allege the syndicate’s money laundering operation spans the globe, with casino junkets and property investments both used as vehicles to launder earnings.
The UNODC’s Douglas hailed the arrest as a “great result” but cautioned that it may not have a big impact on drug trafficking in the region.
“They got their man. Kudos to the Australian Federal Police. But the organisation remains, the demand for synthetic drugs has been built, and someone will step in to replace Tse,” said Douglas.
“It is hard to see his arrest having much of an impact on drug trafficking beyond the near-term if the poor governance, corruption and easily available drug precursors in the region remain unaddressed.”
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Tom Allard; Additional reporting in Melbourne by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Helen Popper, William Mallard and Frances Kerry)