Alleged ‘heavyweight’ gangster could be poster child for B.C.’s public inquiry into money laundering
Kwok Chung Tam is a man with many identities and powerful connections — an alleged kingpin of a Chinese crime cartel so dominant in Canada that police once said it could set the price of heroin on the streets of North America.
According to allegations made by Canadian law enforcement officials between 1991 and 2014, Tam is a heroin importer, a chemical drug lab operator and a “known loan shark” with a history of violence.
WATCH: Whistleblowers who spoke to Global News about alleged money laundering in B.C. speak out again
He’s also been fighting deportation for over 25 years. And according to recent court filings, Tam is believed to be residing in a luxury Richmond, B.C. condo.
He also has alleged ties to B.C.’s casino industry and to the province’s multibillion-dollar real estate money-laundering problem.
If true, these claims suggest Tam could be one of the architects of the so-called “Vancouver Model” of transnational organized crime.
And now that B.C.’s government has decided to launch a public inquiry into the province’s money-laundering scandal, the allegations against Tam and questions about his connections could illustrate how the Vancouver-area real estate market may have been exploited by Chinese organized crime.
In 2018, a Global News investigation revealed that a secret police study linked more than $1 billion worth of high-end Vancouver-area property transactions in 2016 to suspected money laundering and organized crime, while an independent review released last week by B.C.’s government estimated $5 billion was laundered through the province’s real estate last year alone.
Brazen ‘loan shark’ applies to stay in Canada
Global News has obtained thousands of pages of federal court records prepared by Tam’s lawyer — Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Peter Larlee — and the government that were submitted as part of an effort to keep Tam in Canada.
The records, which include volumes of immigration and law enforcement files stretching back to 1988, outline nearly three decades of alleged criminal activity and Tam’s alleged connections to organized crime.
Many of the records — including those about Tam’s alleged connection to the Big Circle Boys — have never been tested in court.
WATCH: Timeline of money laundering in B.C. casinos
“Mr. Tam has instructed us to caution you regarding allegations of participation in organized crime and, in particular, gang membership,” a statement from Tam’s lawyer to Global News said. “Mr. Tam denies such participation or membership. These allegations have never been proven in court or at any immigration proceeding.”
Still, the documents and allegations from multiple levels of law enforcement paint the picture of Tam as a well-connected member of the China, Hong Kong and Macau-based crime syndicate — and how the cartel has taken root in Vancouver.
“The Asian crime cartel was so powerful that police said it could stockpile heroin and dictate the street price of the drug in North America,” Tam’s investigative file with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said.
“Its members, who had connections to underground banks in Hong Kong and the poppy fields of Burma, do not hesitate to eliminate obstructions,” the report said.
In 1991, Tam and a number of refugee claimants from China were arrested in a “massive strike” by Vancouver police, according to a report in Tam’s file, for alleged involvement in an armed, violent home-invasion and jewelry-store-robbery cell that terrorized wealthy Chinese-Canadian families.
Tam was found in possession of 10 stolen Rolex watches, but the case did not result in charges, according to CBSA documents.
Extortion and weapons charges stemming from a 1998 loan-sharking complaint and raid on Tam’s Burnaby home were stayed in 2002 because of undue court delays.
In 1999, Tam was charged in Victoria with conspiracy to import and traffic heroin in a case police said had connections to Vancouver, Thailand, Hong Kong and Las Vegas.
Tam was acquitted of these charges in 2002 — in part because a judge found wiretap evidence in the case was inadmissible.
Then, in 2006, records show an RCMP investigation targeted a number of alleged drug houses across B.C.’s Lower Mainland. During the raids, police claim they discovered an ecstasy lab in a Richmond home where Tam lived with a number of relatives.
In this case, Tam was found guilty in 2010 of unlawfully possessing marijuana for the purpose of trafficking and possession of narcotics. He was handed a 15-month conditional sentence, which included house arrest and a weapons ban.
For his part, Tam has denied any involvement with organized crime. He also characterized his role with the marijuana grow-op as “minor and inactive.”
“Allegations of gang membership are unsubstantiated and false,” Tam wrote in an affidavit filed with the court in July 2016.
“I am not now nor have I ever been a member of a gang, triad or criminal organization,” he said.
Meeting the premier
A previous Global News investigation showed that, according to police, the Big Circle Boys now dominate the deadly trade of fentanyl importation and trafficking in Canada.
The newly-discovered CBSA files submitted as part of Tam’s immigration case also suggest Tam and the Big Circle Boys may have been connected to a notorious casino licensing scandal in B.C. that involved former B.C. premier Glen Clark.
These allegations have never been previously disclosed, and Tam’s name has not been mentioned in public records related to the case. But the CBSA documents suggest that Tam — an alleged “heavyweight” Big Circle Boy, according to a 1998 CBSA report — was somehow connected to the questionable casino application.
“One of them, a loan shark banned from B.C. casinos, was also brazen enough to have his picture taken with the former premier, Glen Clark, while seeking to open a casino,” the CBSA report alleged, referring to Tam. “Among the 28 people arrested in connection with the crime cartel in 1999 was a loan shark, Kwok Chung Tam.”
WATCH: Ex-B.C. casino worker blows whistle on timeline of alleged money laundering
Tam was acquitted on all charges stemming from the 1999 arrest and had charges in a 1998 loan-sharking complaint stayed.
Clark, who stepped down in 1999 in the midst of an RCMP investigation of the “Casinogate” scandal, was acquitted of all charges in 2002.
Clark has reportedly denied any wrongdoing in Casinogate and also denied any nefarious connection to Tam. Clark reportedly said that Tam was just one of many constituents that he had his picture taken with.
Tam allegedly connected to ‘drive-by shooting’
Another stunning allegation in the CBSA files ties Tam to a casino gang war that spilled onto the streets of Vancouver in July 1997. This was around the time that Macau gangs allegedly started to launder drug money at new high-limit baccarat tables in B.C. casinos, according to a Global News investigation.
“Kwok, police say, tried to kill rival triad leader Tong Sang Lai in a drive-by shooting,” Tam’s CBSA file says.
In another email filed with the federal court, CBSA enforcement officer Cheryl Shapka said she believed Tam was behind the attempted hit on the rival gang member.
“The interesting fact I learned in this whole thing is that Tam is the one who allegedly tried to do Lai, a permanent resident I am also working on,” she said. “Tam is Big Circle Boys, as you know, Lai is the head of the Wo On Lok Triad out of Macau.”
Lai was not killed in the attack. He was, however, deported in 2017.
According to a report from the Canadian Press, Lai argued that corrupt police in Macau falsely labelled him as a triad leader.
WATCH: Were B.C. casino staff connected to money-laundering suspects?
But evidence gathered during a clandestine police investigation in the late ’90s alleged otherwise.
Reports from the Vancouver Sun and the Canadian Press — which connected Lai to organized crime based on police wiretaps and immigration hearings — detailed a casino turf war in Macau that spread to Vancouver. This included evidence of a $1-million contract placed on Lai’s head.
Wiretaps have also been used to link Tam to organized crime.
In 2009, as a result of an immigration hearing, Tam’s alleged associate Yi Feng Wu was ordered deported because of his alleged affiliation as a high-ranking member of the Big Circle Boys.
A CBSA officer who reviewed Wu’s file later used information provided during the 2009 hearing to declare Tam “inadmissible” to Canada.
“RCMP St-Sgt. Hiller claimed that during Project Edition in the mid-90s, wiretap conversations indicated that Mr. Tam supplied heroin to Mr. Wu,” wrote the CBSA enforcement officer based on his review of evidence provided during Wu’s 2009 immigration hearing.
“Det. Fisher with the (Vancouver Police Department) stated that Mr. Tam is a known member of the Big Circle Boys … involved in importing opium, loan sharking and heroin trafficking,” the CBSA report said.
According to the CBSA, the immigration officer also ruled that it was “reasonable” based on the evidence provided to conclude that Wu — along with Tam — were members of the Big Circle Boys.
Tam has denied these claims.
In a 2016 affidavit, Tam said he was never given an opportunity to respond to the CBSA’s report alleging he was “inadmissible” based on organized crime.
Had he been given this chance, Tam claimed he “would have provided evidence to show that this information is incorrect.”
The RCMP, meanwhile, did not respond to questions about allegations contained in Tam’s file.
“The RCMP does not comment on potential or ongoing investigations,” said RCMP spokesperson Michelle Schmidt.
The CBSA also did not respond in time for publication.
Tam fights to stay in Canada
For almost as long as he’s lived in Canada, law enforcement officials have been trying to deport Tam.
He’s had at least one failed refugee claim, two negative permanent residency decisions and two deportation orders issued against him since coming to Canada more than three decades ago.
The first of Tam’s deportation orders was issued in October 1993, court records show. The most recent, based on his criminal convictions, was issued in June 2014.
WATCH: Money laundering flowing through back-door channels in B.C. casinos
During this time, police had conducted raids on Tam’s homes, in which they claim to have found semi-automatic handguns and other weapons, raw heroin, drug presses, “bags” and “buckets” filled with cash, plus other street drugs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Despite all this, Department of Justice lawyers, working on behalf of the immigration minister, struck two separate deals with Tam between June 2016 and November 2017.
The first of these deals gave Tam another shot at becoming a permanent resident in Canada after his 1998 application to stay on “humanitarian and compassionate” grounds was denied because of his criminal past.
The officer who denied his claim cited Tam’s 2010 criminal convictions, plus his alleged involvement with organized crime.
But according to Tam’s lawyer, the government unfairly discussed Tam’s alleged connections to organized crime when denying his residency application.
WATCH: Money laundering investigation will go back as far as needed: Horgan
Terms of the second deal are unknown. But like the first, it involved a settlement between Tam and the government in an application to review a negative immigration decision.
The office of Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen did comment on the allegations contained in the federal court files.
The government also did not confirm Tam’s current status in Canada.
Mathieu Genest, a spokesperson for Hussen, did, however, say the government is “committed to the safety and security of Canadians,” adding that, for privacy reasons, he cannot comment on a specific case.
“Permanent residents who are found to be inadmissible for serious criminality under Canada’s immigration laws may lose their status and have to leave the country upon completion of a sentence,” Genest said.
Wealthy refugee to alleged gangster
Tam arrived in Vancouver as a wealthy refugee claimant in December 1988.
Court records — which include copies of Tam’s 1996 failed refugee decision — show he sent his then-wife, Chui Lin Yip, more than $500,000 “in various stages through a friend residing in Hong Kong” to a bank account in Vancouver before coming to Canada.
Yip, who arrived in Vancouver with the couple’s one-year-old daughter and claimed refugee protection five months before Tam, also has multiple criminal convictions in Canada. According to court files, these include convictions for extortion and credit card fraud in the early 1990s, plus a guilty plea for the possession of property obtained through extortion in 2001.
The records also show Yip claimed she did not have a passport when entering Canada.
But a subsequent police raid of the couple’s home — conducted on the grounds that Yip was suspected of “manufacturing false identification documents” — revealed she did have a passport, according to the immigration official who denied Yip’s refugee claim.
WATCH: Were B.C. casino staff connected to money-laundering suspects?
As for their wealth, Tam claimed the money he sent Yip before arriving in Canada was earned by selling his family’s assets in southern China, records show. This included a hair salon, a pool hall and a T-shirt factory.
But as early as 1991, Canadian immigration officials were aware of Tam’s alleged “criminal endeavours” and his growing real estate footprint in Vancouver.
“In Canada less than four years as refugee claimant — owns following properties mortgage-free even though he has not worked and declared no (personal) wealth,” a citizen and immigration memo said.
The record lists two homes in Vancouver and one in Burnaby, “Sunning Auto Sales” in Vancouver and “numerous vehicles, including several late-model BMWs/Mercedes.”
Immigration files also show Tam was targeted for alleged “heroin importation/trafficking” as part of the RCMP’s Project Chase in the early 1990s.
Tam was “heavily involved in alien smuggling, credit card fraud, illegal gambling and weapons,” the document alleged.
By 1998, Tam and Yip claimed to have more than $2 million in assets, according to a letter from their lawyer.
Alleged loan sharking and auto sales
Tam, in his own records, claimed that his ownership throughout the 1990s of Sunning Auto Sales in Vancouver made him a legitimate businessman, partly because he employed Canadian residents.
But it was also part of a casino-lending scheme involving loan sharking, real estate and shipments of B.C. vehicles to Hong Kong and China, according to allegations contained in the federal records.
“Subject owns a car dealership, his cars were supplied by extortion,” a CBSA enforcement officer alleged in an email. “He and his minions hang out at casinos and approach fellow Chinese who need $$$ for betting and give them loans at loan shark rates … Then when they cannot pay … collects their cars and in one case, the house. Was recently arrested for extortion.”
WATCH: Global investigation raises more money laundering concerns
The email refers to a 1998 raid of Tam’s Burnaby home that stemmed from a loan-sharking complaint.
In the case, records allege, a 60-year-old woman borrowed $15,000 from Tam to gamble at an interest rate of 10 per cent per week. She signed over her Mercedes as security, and when she lost her bets and could not pay the money back, the sharks seized her car.
But the woman was still in debt so Yip, along with two other associates, attended her home and ordered her to pay back the “boss,” according to the allegations.
Immigration files also allege that one of Tam’s subordinates “threatened to kill” the woman unless she signed over her furniture to Yip, which she did. A moving truck was then sent to her home and “mountains” of Chinese rosewood furniture were packed up, according to the report.
It was in connection to these allegations that Yip pleaded guilty in 2001 to possession of property obtained through extortion.
Police executed a search warrant on Yip and Tam’s home and claimed to have found over $200,000 in uncashed cheques written out to Tam from alleged extortion victims, along with Walther PPK and Ruger semi-automatic pistols, a silencer, a Taser and ammunition.
“In addition to the stolen goods and weapons, a pound of raw heroin and caches used to stamp heroin for sale stating it was 100 per cent pure” were found and seized, according to CBSA’s Shapka.
As late as 2007, Shapka was still probing Tam’s alleged connections to organized crime.
“VPD found and seized a whole bunch of photographs taken of Tam, including one where Tam was shaking (Glen) Clark’s hand in his office and one where Tam was shaking hands or standing with the King of Thailand,” Shapka wrote in an email.
Shapka said she had personally seen the photos, and “I know a lot of other people saw the photos. Do you have any idea what happened to them?”
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