Notorious Lao casino operator Zhao Wei has publicly denied the the US Treasury Department’s assertion that his business empire constitutes a “transnational criminal organization.”

Lao casino boss Zhou Wei

Lao casino boss Zhou Wei (left) makes a rare public appearance on local television to defiantly answer US Treasury allegations about the criminal nature of his business empire. (Image: public domain)

The Chinese national, who owns the Kings Romans Casino in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GTSEZ) where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) meet, has decried the US allegations as “a unilateral, extraterritorial, unreasonable and hegemonic act of ulterior motives and malicious rumor-mongering.”

This action has severely misled international public opinion and created unnecessary worries among some investors and tourists,” complained Zhao in an official statement.

“As an investor, all of my own activities and those of my staff and companies in all countries and areas are legal, ordinary business operations supervised by the legal authorities of the relevant countries that have not harmed the interests of any country or individual,” he continued.

The businessman later repeated these statements in an interview with Lao television.

‘Horrendous’ Criminal Network

Last week, the US accused Zhao of presiding over an empire that engaged in “horrendous” illegal activities, including “human trafficking and child prostitution, drug trafficking, and wildlife trafficking.”

“Based in Laos within the GTSEZ, the Zhao Wei transnational criminal organisation exploits this region by engaging in drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, bribery, and wildlife trafficking, much of which is facilitated through the Kings Romans Casino located within the GTSEZ,” said a Treasury Department statement.

On January 30, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on Zhao and three companies linked to him, as well as three other individuals, including Zhao’s wife. The measure immediately froze all US assets owned by these entities and prohibited American citizens from doing business with them.

Friends in High Places

GTSEZ was established in 2007 by the nominally Communist totalitarian Lao government with the help of Zhao’s investment. Through bribery and promises of further investment the billionaire runs the zone as his own personal fiefdom, which he has allegedly transformed into a “lawless playground” for wealthy Chinese visitors.

Chinese residents of the zone refer to him as “Tu Huangdi,” or the “local tyrant or emperor.”

The area is one of the world’s main drug producing regions, mainly heroin and methamphetamines, and it does a brisk trade in endangered species. A 2015 report by London-based Environmental Investigation Agency claimed that “sellers and buyers are free to trade a host of endangered species products including tigers, leopards, elephants, rhinos, pangolins, helmeted hornbills, snakes and bears poached from Asia and Africa, and smuggled to this small haven for wildlife crime.”

Zhou has friends in high places, though, and on Monday an official of the Bokeo Province administration leapt to his defence.

“The accusation is not true because the place is properly managed and operated. Furthermore, our government is also monitoring the venue,” he explained to Radio FreeAsia’s Lao Service.