NewsGangster paradise in the jungle

Gangster paradise in the jungle

Created: 08/30/2022, 4:55 p.m

Gambling, cryptocurrencies and telephone scams: Chinese triads have founded their own empire in Myanmar.

Wan Kuok-kui, better known in China’s underworld as the “broken tooth,” dispelled any doubts when he banged the drum for his latest venture in Myanmar at an event in Malaysia years ago. “I decide what happens there,” he announced. Since the military coup against Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, 2021, Saixigang, built from the “broken tooth” near Myawaddy on the border to neighboring Thailand, has been booming. The influence of Wan Kuok-kui, who was imprisoned near Beijing until 2002 because of his membership in China’s triads (the Chinese variant of the mafia) for murder and fraud, was even enough to create two seemingly harmless people within sight of Saixigang on Thailand’s side of the Moei border river to erect cellphone towers.

The road bridge in Mae Sot between the two countries is closed amid mounting military clashes in Myanmar. Thanks to the mobile phone towers, however, the gangsters can go about their lucrative “pig slaughtering” day after day across borders and undisturbed. The term stands for the unscrupulous methods with which more or less unsuspecting mobile phone owners and internet users in the region are robbed.

According to the study “Myanmar’s Casino Cities” by the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), Wan Kuok-kui and other Chinese gangsters have stamped out a kind of “triad republic” including land ownership from the jungle along the Moei River on a total of 160 square kilometers – so-called spinach cities . They owe their name to the fact that the Mandarin term for the leafy vegetable sounds like the Chinese word for gambling. New investors are attracted to websites. Compared to Cambodia or the Philippines, where the triads are up to mischief, they have land ownership for the first time.

Since the coup, the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar army, and a border control force formed by officers have kept their protective hands over the gangster paradise. Chit Thu, the commander of the Karen State Border Guard Force deployed by the Tatmadaw, is said to be one of the most important investors in the spinach town of Yatai New City Project near Shwe Kokko. “It is estimated that the illegal turnover of online gambling, crypto and telephone fraud, according to data from China, amounts to up to 300 billion US dollars annually,” said Jason Tower, the USIP representative for Myanmar, in Thailand’s capital Bangkok.

Experts estimate that Myanmar’s spinach towns now rake in more than the producers and distributors of synthetic drugs that are shipped illegally from Myanmar to Asia. According to estimates by experts, online gambling alone, which is banned in China and operated by triads abroad, flushes around 180 billion US dollars into the coffers every year.

In Southeast Asia, smartphone owners in particular fall victim to the mixed offer of gambling, cryptocurrencies and telephone fraud. Currently, about 37 percent of Southeast Asia’s 500 million people use the Internet, according to The Diplomat magazine. 88 percent of them use smartphones and often use payment systems with QR codes without hesitation. According to the National Economic and Social Development Council in Bangkok, around half of Thailand’s 66 million people have been confronted with such financial scams so far.

Large-scale gangster business on the Moei River requires hundreds, if not thousands, of employees. They are lured into the jungle of Myanmar on Facebook or WeChat with monthly wages of 800 to 1000 US dollars. Women are often said to be forced into prostitution and prevented from returning home.

“China’s authorities, which have a tough stance on crime at home, have until recently merely stood by and operated with impunity in Southeast Asia. There is growing concern that China’s inability to address the issues will increase its influence on security and political issues,” said USIP official Jason Tower. The prime example of recent years: the former beach paradise of Sihanoukville in Cambodia. For years, people just looked on there until Beijing intervened at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen. In August 2019, 100 Chinese were then arrested in Sihanoukville and immediately shipped to the Middle Kingdom.

In the new triad paradise of Myanmar, there is only one concern for the time being. Despite brutal methods, the military cannot break the population’s resistance to their rule. Some generals already see the end of their rule coming. Until then, they want to fill their pockets as best they can.

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