The enigmatic businessman behind an ambitious $15 billion development project in Myanmar called Yatai New City has been wanted by Chinese authorities since 2014 on illegal gambling charges, according to Chinese media group Caixin.
Yatai New City has been billed as a Singapore-like, hi-tech business hub, a “smart city” of “science and technology, gambling and entertainment, tourism, culture, and agriculture,” according to planning documents.
It has been under construction in Shwe Kokko in Myanmar’s Kayin State on the border with Thailand since 2017, with the help of an armed militia affiliated with the country’s authoritarian government, according to The Diplomat.
When complete, the 12,000-hectare development will boast an airport, luxury housing, a 1,200-room hotel, casinos, an entertainment complex, supermarkets, department stores, a police station, an industrial zone, and freight depots.
But according to various sources, Yatai New City has become a haven for online gambling operators targeting the Chinese mainland. These are businesses that have been driven out of Cambodia after that country’s government criminalized the industry last year, bowing to pressure from Beijing.
Online gambling is — at least nominally — illegal in Myanmar, too.
According to local media reports, there are also at least three land-based casinos in Yatai New City. Again, Myanmar prohibits casinos in all but a few regions, and Kayin State is not one of them.
Ciaxin reports Myanmar’s government is currently investigating Yatai New City for illegal cross-border gambling with Beijing’s approval.
The man behind the project is the chairman of Yatai International, She Kailun — otherwise known as She Zhijiang, She Lunkai, Dylan She, or Tang Kriang Kai, among other aliases.
She, 38, is originally from China’s Hunan province, but now holds a Cambodian passport. Through Yatai International, he has been linked to a raft of shady investments in Myanmar, the Philippines, and Cambodia, where he is cozy with the ruling junta, according to Caixin.
In 2014, he was convicted in absentia by a court in Shandong, China for operating an illegal lottery business from the Philippines that targeted Chinese citizens and saw him pocket profits of $298 million, according to Chinese prosecutors.
Eight of his accomplices were sentenced to jail for 15 to 24 months, while She went on the run. He has been a fugitive from Chinese justice ever since.
A year later, 54 foreign nationals employed by She were deported from the Philippines for involvement in illegal online gambling
She has claimed in promotional literature that the Yatai development is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s global infrastructure development strategy, the Belt and Road initiative – a long-term plan to develop a China-centered global trading network by 2049.
But the Chinese embassy in Myanmar told Caixin that Yatai New City does not have the backing of the Chinese government, and that Beijing has never sanctioned Chinese investment in overseas gambling projects.