Crime

Developer of $15 Billion Myanmar Gambling Hub is Fugitive from Chinese Justice

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.

Karen State Chief Minister Nang Khin Htwe Myint (front left) meeting shadowy businessman She Kailun (right) in 2017, an incident captured by local TV cameras. (Image: The Irrawaddy)

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.

Illegal Gambling Hub?

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.

Who is She Kailun?

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.

Philip Conneller

Global and Tribal Gaming, Casino Business, International Crime, UK Gaming---- In Philip Conneller’s seven years with Casino.org, he has covered the gaming industry from Las Vegas to Macau and everything in between. Previously the original features editor for poker’s Bluff US and editor for Bluff Europe (which he helped launch), he has also written for iGaming Business, eGaming Review, and numerous other industry news sites. His news stories for Casino.org have been linked by the Washington Post, the Daily Mail, People Magazine, and Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show, among many others. Philip lives outside of London with his wife and children, and frequently travels to the EU. Email: philip.conneller@casino.org

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Philip Conneller