A Macau triad boss known as “Broken Tooth” walked free from jail yesterday after more than 14 years behind bars for heading a gang blamed for a string of murders and bombings in the former Portuguese colony.
The release of Wan Kuok-koi (尹國駒) has triggered tightened security in the world’s biggest gaming hub although experts say it is unlikely Macau will witness a return to the violence seen before the city returned to Chinese rule in 1999.
Wan, wearing a white T-shirt, walked out from a high-security prison and was collected by two men — one reported to be his brother — in a white Lexus early yesterday.
Now aged 57, he smiled, but did not speak to waiting journalists.
Wan was leader of the 14K triad, the largest organized crime outfit in Macau in the mid-1990s, and was jailed over offenses linked to loan sharking, money laundering and triad activities.
At his trial, police said his gang had been involved in a string of murders, bombings, drive-by shootings and kidnappings that plagued the colony in the run-up to the handover to Chinese rule, as rival groups sought control of the lucrative VIP gaming rooms business.
He stood trial with nine other gang members facing a raft of charges, among them membership of a triad society, illicit gambling, extortion, drug trafficking, smuggling and illegal possession of firearms.
His release has rekindled memories of Macau’s darker days, but a lawyer representing Wan said he intends to lead a quiet life.
“The only thing he wants is for people to forget him,” Pedro Leal told the South China Morning Post.
“In recent weeks he’s been on the cover of many magazines and they’ve all talked about his past. All he wants is to be left in peace. He’s going to lead a quiet life from now on,” the lawyer said.
Wan was arrested in May, 1998, hours after the car of Macau’s top crime investigator was blown up, just as the policeman was jogging nearby. The perpetrators were never caught in the bombing.
Despite insisting he was just a “businessman,” Wan was found guilty the following year at what prosecutors dubbed the “the triad trial of the century,” just a month before Macau was handed back to Beijing.
He reportedly earned his nickname as a young man after breaking a front tooth in a car crash. He later had the tooth capped.
During Wan’s time in prison, Macau has been transformed into the world’s top gaming destination after the casino sector that was once monopolized by tycoon Stanley Ho (何鴻燊) was opened up to foreign competition in 2002.
The semi-autonomous territory, the only place in China where casino gambling is legal, now earns five times the gaming revenue of Las Vegas. Six firms are licensed to operate casinos in Macau.
Security and financial analysts believe Wan would not wield the same influence as before, and his re-appearance is unlikely to hurt investors’ sentiment.
“The VIP [gaming] scene has grown massively over this period of time — the junket operators have become much more professional, much better organized,” said Aaron Fischer, gaming analyst at brokerage CLSA.
“People don’t have appetite for this type of [violence] anymore,” he said.