Inside the hunt for the man known as ‘Asia’s El Chapo’

Authorities are on the hunt for a mysterious drug trafficker known as “Asia’s El Chapo.”

A multinational team of law enforcement agencies is trying to track down Tse Chi Lop, a Chinese-born Canadian who they suspect heads a vast narcotics empire that rakes in up to $17 billion a year and is flooding the Asia-Pacific region with meth, heroin and ketamine, according to a Reuters report.

Authorities believe Tse, who travels with a protective posse of Thai kickboxers, heads a massive drug syndicate that borne out of an alliance of five of Asia’s triad groups who have put aside their differences to get a piece of the burgeoning meth trade.

They’re calling the shadowy narcotics-trafficking network Sam Gor, which is Cantonese for “Brother Number Three,” a nod to one of Tse’s nicknames — but its members refer to it simply as the “The Company.”

Tse, 55, was convicted in 1998 in New York’s Eastern District federal court — where Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman received a life sentence this year for running Mexico’s bloodthirsty Sinaloa cartel — for conspiring to move heroin in the US.

He was facing a potential life sentencing for the conviction — but told the judge a story about his ailing parents and sickly son, and he ended serving just nine years behind bars, according to Reuters.

After Tse’s 2006 release, authorities suspect it didn’t take him long to get back into the drug trade.

But it wasn’t until 2016 that law enforcement really got a sense of how vast the Sam Gor empire is.

One of the Sam Gor’s traffickers was pinched at an airport in Myanmar with bags of ketamine strapped to his thighs and two cellphones — containing a trove of evidence, including a video of a bound man getting tortured with a cattle prod and with a blowtorch being held to his feet.

The man was being punished for throwing 300 milligrams of meth off of a boat because he thought he was being pursued by law enforcement, according to the Australian Federal Police.

The iPhones provided authorities with a “Aladdin’s cave of intel,” according to the report — including photos of huge meth shipments that helped law enforcement in different countries figure out they were dealing with one single “mega-syndicate” rather than several smaller groups.

The phones also provided key leads, like photos of the boats Sam Gor uses to move product, the group’s drop-off spots and the fact that the group operates mostly in northern Myanmar — as well as a photo of Tse.

But despite some breakthroughs, Tse remains at large.

Police say Tse doesn’t always look like a high-rolling drug kingpin.

He has the casual fashion sense of a middle-aged Chinese family man.

But despite his modest appearance, Tse is a high roller at casinos and has an affinity for racehorses, authorities say — it is believed that he lost about $66 million in just one night playing the tables in Macau.

This article was originally posted here