Bukit Bintang blast: Kuala Lumpur police on the hunt for gambling kingpin

Business for shops in Jalan Bukit Bintang mostly recovered the day after the blast, say shop owners in the area.
Business for shops in Jalan Bukit Bintang mostly recovered the day after the blast, say shop owners in the area.ST PHOTO: TEO CHENG WEE

'Ah Hai' likely target of grenade blast as he might have moved in on other gangs' turf

Malaysian police have confirmed they are looking for "Ah Hai", the reported target of a grenade attack in Kuala Lumpur's shopping district, as more details emerge of the gambling kingpin apparently at the centre of a hit attempt that killed one and injured 12 others.

Singaporean retiree Wong Kim Teng, 67, was among the victims. He was discharged from hospital last evening, after successfully undergoing surgery on Friday.

"I'm fine, no problem," he said when contacted by phone. "Right now I'm trying to arrange to return to Singapore as soon as possible."

The attention now has turned to "Ah Hai", who Kuala Lumpur police chief Tajuddin Md Isa said yesterday is believed to be the main target and a crucial witness.

"Ah Hai" was also allegedly involved in a case in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur, in August. "The charge says that he had aimed a pistol at a policeman," Datuk Tajuddin told Bernama about the earlier case.

He said eight of the victims of Thursday's attack have given statements to the police, but no arrests have been made yet. It is believed it was carried out by two men.

"Ah Hai", 53, escaped unscathed on Thursday.

He is a gang leader who grew his illegal online gambling business - a growing sector among Malaysian gangs - to become one of the country's largest syndicates over two decades, local media reported yesterday.

He was described as "notorious" and had even found a former police officer to be his right-hand man.

He had been arrested previously for drug offences, but has recently tried to go straight by branching out into the property and food import businesses.

"He may have angered rival gangs as he encroached into their territory when expanding his business ventures," a source told The Star newspaper. He is believed to still be in Malaysia.

Malaysia's gangs have come under spotlight after the blast - in an area popular with tourists - was blamed on gangland turf wars.

Malaysians have been angry about what they feel is a rise in violent crime in recent years, but they were shocked that two grenades had been used in such a public area.

They were tossed at cars in front of the Cherry Blossom nightclub, which "Ah Hai" visits at least twice a month, China Press reported.

Gangs in downtown areas like Bukit Bintang deal in illegal activities like prostitution, gambling and protection fees, a source familiar with gang activities told The Sunday Times. "Fewer dabble in drugs, because of the severity of the punishment and hence the bigger sum of money needed to buy off people," the source said.

These activities take place in the back alleys away from the main thoroughfare of Jalan Bukit Bintang, which houses swanky malls, restaurants and cafeterias.

The Star said "Ah Hai" is part of Gang 21, identified by the government last year as one of the major gangs in the country. The home ministry said it had more than 2,300 members, who were mostly Chinese and Indians.

The area "Ah Hai" supposedly specialises in - online gambling - has also become increasingly problematic as gamblers get into heavy debt, noted Datuk Michael Chong, who heads the Malaysian Chinese Association's Public Service and Complaints Department.

In 2012, police arrested 137 suspected bookies in Kajang, Selangor, in a raid on what is believed to be one of the world's largest online football betting syndicates.

Bookies are still used for online gambling because it is often done through accounts that are set up through bookies, said Mr Chong. "Ah Hai" had reportedly been targeted because he had been poaching bookies from rival syndicates.

chengwee@sph.com.sg

This article was first published on Oct 12, 2014