Crime linked to Macau’s casino industry was up 14.1 percent in Q1, with violent crime and kidnappings leading the surge, Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak said Thursday.
Authorities recorded 438 criminal cases related to the gaming industry — which is the world’s biggest market — with kidnapping rates increasing by 34.4 per cent, to 82 instances.
Most kidnappings were conducted by loan-sharking groups inside casinos and the majority of victims were tourists, Wong said.
He also claimed the spike can be explained by a police crackdown on the loansharking gangs that target Chinese visitors.
Restrictions are imposed on the amount of hard currency mainlanders can bring into the gambling hub, while daily ATM withdrawal limits are also capped, making visitors vulnerable to criminal moneylenders.
Wong said recent tougher police enforcement had brought crimes to light that may have previously passed under the radar because the victims — generally gamblers who cannot pay their debts and have attempted to dodge Beijing’s laws on moving money — are too ashamed to report the crime.
Following pressure from Beijing on Macau’s government, Triads have to some extent been regulated out of the junket industry, which brings VIP clients from the mainland to the Asian casino capital and lends them money to gamble while they’re there.
But the gangs must have their pound of flesh and many have turned to illegal loan-sharking instead.
In February, the enclave’s judiciary police arrested 71 people linked to a Triad loan-sharking operation, including its alleged leader, a 53-year-old mainlander identified only by his last name, Ma.
The organization was based out of the VIP room of an unnamed casino and three rented offices, all in Macau’s Zape district. It handled around $13.7 million in loans in the last three years, police said.
The group was organized into a clearly defined hierarchical structure, with strictly enforces internal rules. Members who violated these rules were subjected to fines or corporal punishment.
Some gang members were tasked with scoping out casinos looking for cash-strapped gamblers, while its “accountants” and senior members were responsible for signing IOUs and photocopying prospective debtors’ ID cards.
Clients who defaulted on their debts would be dealt with by the gang’s “action team,” which would falsely imprison them until they, or their relatives, could find a way to pay.
Despite the Triad presence, homicides remain very rare in Macau. A gambler found dead in guesthouse earlier this month was an exception to that rule. Three members of a loansharking gang were arrested shortly afterwards. Police said the deceased had owed them $6,373.