Macau casino loansharks lay low after a major kidnapping ring was dismantled by local police ahead of next month’s Chinese president visit.
This week, Macau’s Judiciary Police (PJ) and their counterparts in the neighbouring city of Zhuhai announced that their joint Double Arrow operation resulted in the arrest of 55 people suspected of involvement in a local casinos usury syndicate.
PJ spokesman Choi Ian Fai told local media that a tip that came in nearly two years ago ignited the activity. The suspects, a mix of local residents and mainland Chinese, have reportedly offered Macau gamblers illegal loans since 2013, earning profits of about HK$70 million (US$ 9 million) in the process.
Among the suspects’ charges are “deprivation of others’ freedom of movement,” indicating that the suspects would hold indebted gamblers hostage until they could make some arrangements to repay the money they had borrowed, usually by contacting family friends on the mainland.
Monday’s raids also targeted a number of Macau casino VIP rooms from which they seized around HK$400k in cash from 17 “junket accounts.” More arrests are likely to follow, given that the authorities have recovered a number of flash drives on which the gang’s financial data was recorded.
Macau’s government revealed earlier this week that while the overall crime rate of the special administrative region was steady, gaming-related crime was almost one-fifth higher. Gaming-related operations of loansharking had increased by more than one-fifth whereas unlawfully detaining indebted gamblers had increased by more than one-quarter.
As such, the raids on Monday could be seen as a’ look busy, the boss is coming’ move, coming as they do just weeks before a rumoured visit to Macau by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is expected to descend into the region between December 18-20 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Macau’s official transfer from Portugal to China.
Xi’s last trip to Macau was in December 2014, and he used his visit to encourage Macau to diversify beyond gaming its economy. There is no doubt that Xi will challenge his hosts to show that they have implemented his vision for the future of Macau.
Interestingly, the visit to Xi in 2014 came as Macau experienced a severe slowdown in VIP gaming, a slump that Macau only recovered from last year. With the imminent arrival of Xi, current market dynamics have seen the declining VIP market overtaken by the segment of mass gaming. Perhaps after all, there’s something to that propaganda of the’ man of the people.’