Chauffeur arrested over kidnap and murder of Taiwan gambling kingpin

TAIPEI (AFP) - The chauffeur of a Taiwanese illegal gambling kingpin has been arrested in Thailand for his kidnap and murder, Taiwan police said Thursday.

In a case that has gripped Taiwan, wealthy businessman Shih Chia-chin - who is believed to have accumulated a fortune worth tens of millions of US dollars through illegal gambling - was kidnapped and stabbed to death in August after his driver picked him up from an airport in the north.

The chauffeur, Hsieh Yuan-hsin, was arrested in Chiangrai in northern Thailand late Wednesday afternoon, officers at Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau said.

"The suspect is currently held in Bangkok and could be dispatched back to Taiwan soon after the Thai authorities complete their due legal procedure," an officer at the bureau told AFP.

Hsieh, 39, had picked up Mr Shih from Taoyuan airport on August 18.

Three hours later, the accountant for Mr Shih's company received a phone call from kidnappers demanding a ransom of NT$50 million (S$2.09 million).

Mr Shih's family wired NT$30 million to three designated bank accounts and alerted police, according to a statement at the time from police in the central city of Taichung.

Hsieh had tried to withdraw the ransom but fled after he was asked by a bank clerk to show his ID, the statement added.

Prosecutors issued a warrant barring Hsieh from leaving Taiwan but he managed to board a flight for Thailand with a fake passport on the day of the kidnap.

Almost a week later, Mr Shih's body was found in a ditch in a remote area of the southern city of Tainan. He had been stabbed more than 20 times.

Taiwanese authorities released photos Thursday of Hsieh handcuffed and surrounded by Thai police officers.

Two other suspects have already been arrested in Taiwan for the kidnap and murder.

Taiwan police say Hsieh, who is reported to have worked for Mr Shih for five years and was formerly a fruit wholesaler, had no previous criminal record.

Local media said Mr Shih had kept a low profile since he survived a kidnap attempt four years ago.

He was sentenced to an 18-month suspended prison term after his Internet gambling ring was cracked nine years ago, reports said, adding that he had built up a fortune worth billions of Taiwan dollars.

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