Taiwan gang leader nabbed at airport after 17 years

TAIPEI (AFP) - A Taiwanese gang leader who has been on the island's most wanted list since he fled to China 17 years ago was arrested on arrival at a Taipei airport on Saturday, police said.

Chang An-lo, better known by his nickname "White Wolf", is a key member of the Bamboo Union - one of Taiwan's biggest gangs accused of organised crimes including blackmail, extortion, smuggling and money laundering.

"Chang An-lo of the Bamboo Union has returned to the country to turn himself in... the Criminal Investigation Bureau and the airport police immediately handcuffed and arrested Chang when he stepped out the plane at Songshan Airport," police said in a statement.

Chang, 65, was born in China and moved to Taiwan with his family after Chinese communists took over the mainland in 1949. He joined the Bamboo Union as a teenager and gradually climbed his way to the top, according to Taiwanese media.

He fled Taipei in 1996 after being implicated in blackmailing and other cases. While on the mainland Chang was reportedly running a business and also set up an association to advocate Taiwan's peaceful unification with China.

Television footage showed hundreds of his supporters gathered outside Taipei's Songshan Airport on Saturday amid heavy police presence.

Chang had said in Shanghai that he intended to return to Taiwan to promote his political ideals, Taipei-based Central News Agency reported.

More than 700 people attended a farewell banquet for Chang in Shanghai on Friday night, according to Taiwan's Apple Daily newspaper.

Chang is also known for making public a taped confession of hitmen behind the shooting of Taiwanese American writer Henry Liu in 1984, an incident which had strained Taiwan's ties with the United States, according to Taiwanese media.

Chang, who was living in the US at the time, claimed no involvement in the shooting by two close friends and Bamboo Union members.

In 1985, Chang was jailed in the US on drug-smuggling charges. He was deported to Taiwan after serving 10 years in prison.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war but Beijing still claims the self-ruled island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.