Alleged drug kingpin dubbed ‘Asia’s El Chapo’ extradited to Australia

Australian police hailed the arrest of Tse Chi Lop as “one of the most high-profile arrests in the history” of the country. PHOTO: AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE/FACEBOOK

MELBOURNE - The alleged boss of Asia’s biggest crime syndicate and one of the world’s most wanted men has been extradited to Australia and arrested on drug trafficking charges, police said on Thursday.

Chinese-born Canadian Tse Chi Lop, 59, is suspected of being the leader of an Asian mega-cartel known as Sam Gor, a major global producer and supplier of methamphetamines.

He was expected to appear in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Thursday to answer a charge of “conspiracy to traffic commercial quantities of controlled drugs” after being extradited from the Netherlands.

Tse, dubbed Asia’s “El Chapo” in reference to Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman’s nickname, faces life imprisonment if convicted.

The Australian police hailed it as “one of the most high-profile arrests in the history” of the country.

The Sam Gor organisation – or “The Company” – is believed to launder billions in drug money through casinos, hotels and real estate in South-east Asia’s Mekong region. It dominates the illegal drugs market across Asia.

Australian police estimate the cartel is responsible for up to 70 per cent of drugs coming into Australia alone. They said the group smuggled huge quantities of drugs – particularly methamphetamine, but also heroin and ketamine – into Australia in packs of tea.

Tse was detained at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in January 2021 after a decade-long hunt. He had been the subject of an Interpol Red Notice.

Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Krissy Barrett said the arrest came after a “very complex investigation”.

She said: “We allege this male is the head of a large transnational organised crime syndicate. By their very nature, these very senior figures within the syndicates obviously deliberately stay hands-off in terms of the business dealings.

“That’s why it’s such a significant arrest and why it has taken a fair amount of time.”

The Australian police said the charges relate to a specific 2012-2013 operation transferring drugs from Melbourne to Sydney.

A police sting at the time nabbed 27 people and netted 20kg of methamphetamine with a current street value of around US$3 million (S$4 million), 99 designer handbags and a yellow Lamborghini.

A second man has also been arrested after being extradited from Thailand.

“The hard work of investigators, and the (Australian Federal Police) international network, has enabled these alleged offenders to be charged and face the justice system in Australia,” said Ms Barrett.

Tse has denied the drug charges.

He has claimed that his arrest was set up by the Australian authorities, and argued that the Australian police illegally arranged for his expulsion from Taiwan to Canada to include a stop in the Netherlands so he could be arrested there.

The effort to arrest Tse, Operation Kungur, involved about 20 agencies across continents, with the Australian police taking the lead. He was rumoured to have been living in Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan in recent years.

He previously spent nine years in prison after being arrested on drug trafficking charges in the United States in the 1990s .AFP

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