Australia: ‘Asian El-Chapo’ Arrested, Cyber-Fraud and Darknet Busts

Published: 27 January 2021

MethMethamphetamine is reportedly the jewel in the crown of Tse Chi Lop’s alleged network, the Sam Gor drug-trafficking syndicate. (Photo: Radspunk, Wikimedia, License)

By Will Neal

Authorities in Australia over the weekend announced a series of victories in three separate investigations, including the detention of alleged Chinese drug lord Tse Chi Lop in Amsterdam.

Australia’s Federal Police (AFP) on Sunday said that a man had been detained in The Netherlands, at the request of Interpol, pursuant to an Australian arrest warrant issued in 2019 as part of ‘Operation Volante,’ a seven-year investigation into “a global crime syndicate operating in five countries.”

International press have since identified the suspect as Tse Chi Lop, a Chinese-born Canadian national and alleged kingpin of the Sam Gor syndicate, thought to be responsible for as much as 70% of all illegal drug traffic in the Asia-Pacific region.

AFP confirmed that it is presently preparing to submit a formal extradition request so that the detainee may face criminal proceedings.

Often described as the Asian ‘El Chapo’ — a nod to the nom de guerre of Joaquim Guzman, the convicted head of Mexico’s immensely powerful Sinaloa Cartel — an investigation by Reuters in 2019 revealed that Tse had been the prime target of a series of connected probes by more than 20 law enforcement agencies around the world.

Reporters found that his alleged organization, which according to conservative estimates boasts an annual income of US$8 billion per year, was responsible for funnelling multi-tonne quantities of heroin, ketamine and, above all, methamphetamine, to at least a dozen countries.

Their specialty: concealing drugs in packets of loose-leaf tea.

At the height of his powers, Tse was reportedly protected by a personal guard of highly-trained Thai kickboxers. He allegedly chose to travel exclusively by private jet and was something of a high-roller, with police claiming he once lost $66 million in a single night at a casino in Macau.

Tse’s arrest was swiftly followed by news of two other successful enforcement actions in other, separate investigations being conducted by the AFP.

Officers searched several properties in Brisbane and the Gold Coast in connection with the recent shutdown of illegal online marketplace DarkMarket, seizing a laptop, four mobile phones and several computer drives, as well as a number of bank cards.

The agency noted in its release that German police had arrested an Australian national, a suspected administrator of the illicit website, at the country’s border with Denmark on January 11.

Meanwhile, Australian police on Monday also arrested a 22-year-old Dutch national in Queensland for allegedly operating as a money mule for a fraud network suspected of stealing and subsequently laundering more than A$3.5 million (US$2.7 million) from bank accounts held by Australian citizens.

The organization behind the scheme is believed to have used sophisticated malware to steal victims’ details and extract funds from their financial holdings.