Detained gambling tycoon She Zhijiang faces deportation to China from Thailand

Chen Jun for RFA Cantonese
Detained gambling tycoon She Zhijiang faces deportation to China from Thailand Gambling tycoon She Zhijiang (fourth from left) is seen at a meeting of the China Myanmar Economic Corridor in 2019.

Updated at 12:01 p.m. ET on 2023-06-26

Chinese Communist Party officials appear to be distancing themselves from detained gambling tycoon She Zhijiang, whose casinos have been linked with massive human trafficking and online scam operations in Southeast Asia, and who faces imminent repatriation to China after Thai police arrested him in August 2022.

She, 41, a naturalized Cambodian national who owns property and gaming ventures in Cambodia, Myanmar and the Philippines, stands accused of “running illegal online gambling operations.” 

He will likely be sent to China very soon coinciding with the expiration of his 30-day appeal period, according to an official statement and a person familiar with the case.

A deputy spokesman for the Thai Supreme Prosecutor’s Office announced that the court had issued a deportation order for She on May 25. However, the order allowed 30 days for She to appeal the decision.

Shortly afterwards, Thailand’s Provincial Electricity Authority said it would cut off the power supply to Shwe Kokko, the site of She’s U.S. $15 billion real estate and casino mega-project. It has become notorious as a bastion of illegal activity, including drug trafficking, amid violence and unrest in post-coup Myanmar. 

Meanwhile, officials linked to Beijing’s international outreach and influence operations are now claiming he has no connection with a key organization carrying out its “United Front” work among overseas Chinese.

While official reports show that She attending top-level meetings in Beijing in 2019 hosted by the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, a known United Front organization, officials at the body said they had “no knowledge” of She’s case when contacted by Radio Free Asia, and that it fell under the remit of the China Federation of Overseas Entrepreneurs instead. RFA is a news service affiliated with BenarNews.

However, an official at the entrepreneurs’ organization said She, as a former high-ranking officer in the organization, would still be the business of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese.

Court documents 

As Chinese officials appeared to pass the buck on She, a Thailand-based dissident who shared a detention center cell with him in Bangkok told RFA that the former gambling tycoon was desperate to avoid repatriation to China amid an ongoing crackdown on human trafficking and online scams, which have netted thousands of victims across the region in recent years.

According to court documents shared with the dissident by She, he had once been a valued collaborator for the Chinese authorities, and was put in touch with state security police in the southern island province of Hainan and given a handler to provide intelligence for Beijing.

She now fears that his most basic human rights won’t be protected, and is calling on the international community to help prevent his extradition to China, said the dissident, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

Radio Free Asia was able to confirm that the dissident had been held in the same detention facility as She.

She wouldn’t be the first former darling of the United Front system to face repercussions back home amid an ongoing anti-corruption and anti-espionage campaign that typically nets people who have fallen out of political favor under General Secretary Xi Jinping, or who are considered insufficiently loyal to China’s supreme leader.

In May, a court in the eastern city of Suzhou handed down a life sentence to 78-year-old American citizen John Leung, who headed a Beijing-backed overseas Chinese community group, after finding him guilty of “espionage.” Leung had also previously been photographed alongside high-ranking Communist Party officials.

“She Zhijiang made his name and fortune in Myawaddy, an extremely sensitive area in the hands of the Chinese,” the dissident said, referring to an area in southeastern Myanmar’s Kayin state, where She’s Yatai Corp is a major investor in the Shwe Kokko Special Economic Zone.

While the Shwe Kokko mega-project along the Thaungyin River was initially promoted as a way to spur economic growth and deliver material benefits to the local community, it has gained notoriety more as a bastion of illegal activity, according to the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies, C4ADS, an independent research outfit that studies transnational organized crime networks.

According to the dissident, She believes that his army of some 5,000 mercenaries and his deep connections in the local area should protect him from the worst form of political retaliation upon his return to China. Yet he still fears he could receive the death penalty.

“I told him he has been abandoned by the Communist Party, who can easily deal with other people under his command,” the dissident said, adding that She had handed over copies of hundreds of pages of court trial records and other documents and asked him to make them public.

Much of the material details close cooperation between She and Chinese Communist Party officials, including his recruitment as an agent by the state security police.

They also allege that he paid up to two million yuan in bribes to An Chen, secretary-general of the China Federation of Overseas Entrepreneurs.

Personal fiefdom

According to the dissident, She ran afoul of Beijing after he grew extremely powerful in Myawaddy, and wanted to run the Asia-Pacific City complex in the Shwe Kokko Special Economic Zone as his personal fiefdom – something that the Chinese Communist Party couldn’t countenance owing to the strategic importance of the area, which is close to the border with Thailand.

Chinese state media reports from the time of She’s arrest described She as the “Asia-Pacific City online scam king,” whose operation in Myawaddy had attracted more than 100 casino and scam companies to Asia-Pacific City.

“Amid a vast network of vested interests and transactions, crimes like smuggling, kidnapping, human trafficking, fraud, assault, extortion are densely intertwined and span Southeast Asia and China,” said the August 2022 Phoenix News report on She’s arrest.

“She Zhijiang, who has changed his nationality and who has multiple pseudonyms, rules the roost like an emperor.” 

According to the dissident, none of these activities could have taken place in Myanmar without the knowledge and collusion of the Chinese Communist Party.

“You can’t do this stuff with no backing – behind them are governments and warlords,” he said. “The Chinese Communist Party controls 100% of this place.”

Another person familiar with organized crime in the region agreed that the Chinese government is heavily involved with organizations carrying out criminal activities in the region. 

“There’s a man called Zhao Wei in the Golden Triangle SEZ who has leased a piece of land for 99 years, and the place is full of gray-to-black operations,” the person said. “The entire area is under his control ... and he is engaged in scams, human trafficking and wild animal trafficking around there.”

Radio Free Asia (RFA) produced this report. It has been updated to correct references to She Zhijiang’s extradition and citizenship, and to add Radio Free Asia’s attempts to contact Chinese state security officials for comment.


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