A Chinese resident of Bokeo province in northern Laos is in police custody after he and his wife allegedly shot and killed four other Chinese and injured another during a suspected robbery at a rented house near a casino in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, sources in the country told RFA.
Critics in Laos have characterized the Golden Triangle SEZ as a de-facto Chinese colony, with the casino, hotels and restaurants catering mainly to tourists from China and operating largely outside the reach of Lao law. The zone also has had many documented cases of illegal activities including human and animal trafficking.
On the evening of July 7, Yin Aseung, 58, and his wife allegedly entered a house in Ton Feung district’s Khuane village, near the King’s Roman casino building, and shot the five victims with a handgun before fleeing the scene, police said.
Ho Zin Long, 33, Ly Fu Kang, 33, Yang Feng Za, 31 and Luy Yu Chin, 33 were killed, and Yu Ly Ly, 34, was injured in the attack, according to names released by the police. They said no Lao citizens were involved in the incident.
Witnesses say the couple fled the scene in a car with some of the victims’ belongings. Police arrested Yin the next day after a shootout with the couple in Nam Keung village, about eight kilometers (five miles) from the SEZ.
“At present, we can report that one of the suspects, the husband, was arrested, and the wife remains at large,” an officer at the Bokeo province police department told RFA’s Lao Service Friday.
Yin suffered a gunshot wound, while his wife escaped during the fray.
“We still don’t have a motive for the shooting, but once the investigation has been updated, we will report it to the public right away,” the officer said.
Witnesses believe that the incident was a robbery, as police confiscated Chinese yuan, Thai baht and casino chips worth about U.S. $133,000, and a handgun from the house that the suspects were renting. But police said they are not ready to declare robbery as the motive until their investigation is complete and they anticipate delays until Yin recovers from his wounds.
The violence is the latest of numerous reported crimes committed by Chinese nationals in Laos’ special economic zones (SEZ), in which Lao authorities have little to no access under the terms of concessions granted to Chinese investors.
Lao law limits
The Golden Triangle zone’s association with crime combined with its special legal rules concerns many Lao residents.
“The law is too soft on Chinese. Under normal circumstances, foreigners who come to invest in Laos are under Lao laws. But in the SEZ, Chinese have more rights than us,” a Lao villager who requested anonymity to speak freely told RFA.
“We cannot even investigate because everything is under their control. We are too soft in this matter,” the villager said.
The source called on the Lao government to rethink its law enforcement role inside the SEZ to ensure public safety, saying that Lao officials need to be in charge of investigations so that the truth can be revealed.
Another villager, from Ton Feung district, told RFA he was in shock.
“I heard the news on Facebook. Incidents like this never happened before in this area,” said the second villager, who requested anonymity for legal reasons.
The Lao authorities will be involved in the investigation, according to an official from the ministry of planning and investment.
The official told RFA that based on the rules of the SEZ, the investigation will report to a board committee in the zone made up of the zone’s investors and representatives of the Lao government.
However, the official said that the investigation will be managed by the Chinese companies due to concession terms granting them rights to keep order within the SEZ. The official added that Lao authorities generally cannot get involved in the domestic affairs of the zone unless they are in very high-level positions.
“When [Chinese] make trouble, they deal with it themselves,” the official said.
“How they do that, we don’t know. The safety of the public is our responsibility, so if it involves Lao citizens, we have to talk with them,” he said.
Trouble in paradise
The Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone has not been without controversy.
In January 2019 the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted Kings Roman group and its head Zhao Wei as a crime syndicate because it was involved in human, animal and drug trafficking, accusations denied by the company.
At the end of 2019, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reported that there are about 100 live tigers kept in the cages at the economic zone to be sold as their body parts are believed to have medicinal properties for traditional Chinese remedies.
The Lao government has allowed Chinese investors to open casinos in other areas of the country on the promise of economic benefits, but gambling often attracts criminal activity.
For instance, in Luang Namtha province, the Golden City casino in Boten was ordered to close after it attracted money launderers, murderers, fraudsters, kidnappers, drug pushers, human traffickers and prostitutes.
The Savan Vegas casino, near the Thai border in Savannakhet province, was ordered closed as its Macau-based investor defaulted on unpaid taxes. It has now reopened under a different name and new management.
With the exception of the Malaysian-owned Dan Savan Nam Ngeum Resort casino in Vientiane, all the casinos in Laos are backed by Chinese companies, two of them in tax-free special economic zones.
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya, Written in English by Eugene Whong.