Alleged ‘Mr Big’ arrives in Australia under police guard

Tse, dubbed the El Chapo of Asia after the notorious South American drug lord, was arrested last year during a stopover in the Netherlands as he travelled to Canada, where his syndicate, known as “The Company”, has an operations hub.

The Chinese-born Canadian has spent months fighting Australia’s move to extradite him from the Netherlands.

His court appearance on Thursday was a historic day for Australian law enforcement and a coup for the federal police, which has prioritised the arrest of alleged offshore drug lords over the past 18 months.

AFP assistant commissioner Krissy Barrett said it was a major victory for the force.

“This arrest would be one of the most high-profile arrests in the history of the AFP,” she told reporters on Thursday.

The investigation into the syndicate took up to ten years before Lop was charged.

Accused drug trafficker Tse Chi Lop is escorted back to Australia by AFP officers.Credit:AFP

“We will allege [Tse] conspired with junior syndicate members to transport millions in Australia to transport millions of dollars worth of illicit drugs between Melbourne and Sydney,” she said.

The AFP has recently secured the arrest and extradition of offshore fugitives Mark Buddle, who is the international chief of the Commancheros, and alleged drug importer Tony Haddad. Tse is considered the most significant of these arrests.

Tse has been investigated by five different federal agencies: the federal police, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the NSW Police, the NSW Crime Commission and the Victoria Police.

He is the most important alleged drug importer to be nabbed by the federal police in two decades, with police intelligence sources estimating his syndicate has allegedly been responsible for up to 70 per cent of all narcotics entering Australia.

The alleged syndicate leader was extradited to Australia from the Netherlands.

The alleged syndicate leader was extradited to Australia from the Netherlands.Credit:AFP

The Company, a multinational criminal enterprise created by Chinese triad bosses in Hong Kong, Macau, Myanmar, Cambodia, Taiwan and Southern China, is suspected of forming deep ties with outlaw motorcycle gangs, Vietnamese money launderers, casinos in Australia and abroad, and, corrupt senior Asian government officials.

One of Tse’s suspected customers was Hakan Ayik, who is currently Australia’s most wanted criminal and is hiding out in Turkey.

Australian and foreign police intelligence sighted by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald has variously linked The Company to corrupt officials in China, Cambodia, Macau and Vietnam. A former investigator said Tse had boasted of having “Macau in my pocket.”

Hakan Ayik photographed a decade ago.

Hakan Ayik photographed a decade ago.

Sources with involvement in some of the investigations into Tse said his ties to Taiwanese officials meant Australia faced an impossible task if it attempted to extradite him from Taipei, where he had resided for several years. And in 2019, Tse even obtained the contents of a highly confidential Australian Federal Police document circulated among partner forces which alerted him to the fact that he was a high-value police target.

When intelligence of his travel to Canada was uncovered, the federal police sought his arrest during a stopover.

Tse has denied involvement in drug trafficking and will contest the charges.

“We allege Mr Tse is responsible for multiple large-volume drug importations worth billions of dollars into Australia and the region for more than a decade,” AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw told a federal parliamentary committee last year.

The Company’s operations have been exposed in several investigations conducted by this masthead.

The initial expose of The Company, which is also known as the Sam Gor syndicate of the Grandfather Syndicate, was in 2012, when The Age and Herald published a leaked briefing from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. It described The Company’s members’ “well-established network of contacts across many governments as well as legitimate business and company structures, that enables them to mask and support their criminal activities”.

In 2019, this masthead again exposed The Company, this time revealing its infiltration of Crown Resorts casinos in Melbourne and Perth in order to launder funds. The expose led to commissions of inquiry and major reforms of Australia’s gaming sector.

In 2020, AFP deputy commissioner Karl Kent described The Company as “being a huge threat to Australia … not only in terms of illicit drugs but in terms of people smuggling, in terms of firearms.” He estimated The Company’s revenue to “exceed the gross domestic product of some of the states in which they operate.”

The man under the watch of AFP officers.

The man under the watch of AFP officers.Credit:AFP

The case to be heard against Tse relies on evidence uncovered during a 2011 investigation by the Australian Federal Police into a millionaire Melbourne greengrocer, Suky Lieu. Victorian court records reveal Lieu was allegedly taking orders from a man in Hong Kong with the Cantonese nickname Sam Gor or Brother Three.

“We started to hear about a reference to a very high-ranking member of this organisation who had global reach, had global control, and had a serious ranking globally as an international trafficker,” former AFP officer Roland Singor previously told this masthead. The AFP will allege that Sam Gor is Tse Chi Lop.

Court records reveal Singor and his fellow AFP detectives tracked millions in cash back to Crown Casino in Melbourne. The cash, generated by Suky Lieu’s drug sales, was given to a high-roller tour business known as a junket operator. Crown licensed and paid that business to attract wealthy gamblers to come to its Southbank casino.

The court records detail how this junket in turn wired millions of drug dollars to Hong Kong. Some of the alleged orders to do so were issued by Brother Three and were recorded on phone taps aired during the prosecutions of Suky Lieu’s associates.

Police believe Tse, a Canadian national born in Guangdong Province in Southern China in 1964, became a low ranking member of a Triad crime syndicate known as the Big Circle Gang before migrating to Canada in the 1980s. In 1996, the FBI arrested him in connection to a drug importation ring in the US that was sourcing heroin from the Golden Triangle in Asia.


The AFP’s Operation Volante shut down Lieu’s operation in 2012, but Tse remained overseas and alleged continued to build his operation. The federal police continued to sporadically investigate Tse for involvement in alleged drug importations and launched a new operation, codenamed Kungar in 2019 aimed at securing his arrest.

Federal police liaison officers in Myanmar, Washington, Thailand, China and Hong Kong worked with trusted counterparts in local agencies to gather fresh intelligence on The Company’s operations.

Reuters has previously reported that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime had estimated The Company’s meth revenue in 2018 at $8 billion a year, but said it could be as high as $17.7 billion.

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