Paul Phua leaves court

Paul Phua and his attorneys leaving court recently. Phua and his son Darren are appealing a court order banning them from playing poker in casinos while they await trial in the US. (Image: Erik Verduzco/reviewjournal.com)

The Paul Phua World Cup sports betting trial soap opera took on a new twist this week, as the Malaysian government demanded that a letter written to the FBI by a member of its cabinet, and later submitted as a court document by the defense, be withdrawn.

Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi wrote to Deputy Director of the FBI Mark Giuliano in a letter dated December 18, to refute allegations that Phua is a member of the notorious 14K Triad, an organized crime syndicate based in Hong Kong.

According to court documents, the FBI had been informed of Phua’s alleged criminal connections in 2008 by the Malaysian police.

“Mr. Phua is neither a member nor is he associated with the ‘14K Triad,’ ” stated the letter. “Mr. Phua has, on numerous occassions [sic], assisted the Government of Malaysia on projects affecting our national security and accordingly we continue to call upon him to assist us from time to time and as such we are eager for him to return to Malaysia.”

Political Backlash

But Zahid’s actions have caused a political stink in Phua’ home country, gathering widespread criticism.

Fahmi Fadzil, communications director of the opposition People’s Justice Party of Malaysia, blasted the minister’s letter in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

“Mr. Zahid writing the letter comes across as very shocking not only because the letter attempts to exonerate Paul Phua, who clearly has a chequered past, but also because Mr. Zahid claims that Mr. Phua has assisted with ‘projects of national security,’ ” he said. “I will be discussing with several Members of Parliament on formally requesting a response from Mr. Zahid in the Malaysian Parliament.”

Fadzil also said that the letter was a serious breach of protocol and that Hamidi should be subject to a police investigation unless he explains his actions immediately.

In response to the controversy, Phua’s celebrity attorney, David Chesnoff, asked for the evidence to be withdrawn. “In light of the [Malaysian] government’s objection, we respectfully withdraw our prior submission,” he wrote.

Phuas Request Right to Play Poker

Phua was arrested in July, along with his son Darren and six other people, and accused of running a multimillion-dollar World Cup betting ring out of three luxury apartments at Caesars Palace. While five other members of the group, including fellow high-stakes players Richard Wong, have plead guilty, the Phuas are maintaining their innocence.

The defense team has asked that video evidence gathered by the FBI during an uncover operation on the Caesars properties be dismissed by the courts, as it was, in their view, obtained illegally and without a warrant. Agents posed as technical repairmen and turned off wireless access to the rooms in order to gain access and film evidence. The trial is currently postponed while the judge considers a ruling on the matter.

Meanwhile, the Phuas are seeking to have a court order lifted that prevents them from playing poker while awaiting trial. Their lawyers argue that the two men have complied with the terms of their $2.5 million bail and should be permitted to play in casinos, which, they say, are “highly regulated environments with cameras throughout,” and therefore pose no risk.