Hong Kong (CNN)The United States government has placed sanctions on Wan Kuok-koi, a notorious gangster and triad boss known as "Broken Tooth."
Wan is known as a leader of the 14K Triad, which the US Treasury described as "one of the largest Chinese organized criminal organizations in the world," engaging in "drug trafficking, illegal gambling, racketeering, human trafficking, and a range of other criminal activities."
Under the sanctions, any assets held by Wan in the US will be frozen and American citizens are forbidden from doing business with him.
Born in the Portuguese colony of Macao, Wan rose through the ranks of the triad to become one of the territory's most powerful crime bosses, waging a bloody war against rival gangs, with bombings, shootings and stabbings a regular occurrence. He was jailed in November 1999 on a host of charges, shortly before the colony was handed over to China.
Upon his release in 2012, Wan, who had always maintained his innocence, sought to reinvent himself -- at least publicly -- as a legitimate businessman, reportedly backing ventures in Cambodia and Palau. According to the US Treasury, he also gained membership of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an advisory body to the ruling Communist Party.
In 2018, the Treasury statement said, Wan established the headquarters of the World Hongmen History and Culture Association in Cambodia. Also known as Tiandihui, or the Heaven and Earth Society, the Hongmen is a fraternal organization dating to the mid-1600s, with footholds around the world.
In Hong Kong and Macao, it has been closely linked to triad activity, and the US sanctions accuse the 14K of "utilizing Broken Tooth's World Hongmen History and Culture Association as an effort to legitimize itself."
"The World Hongmen History and Culture Association has managed to co-opt elite figures in Malaysia and Cambodia. This continues a pattern of overseas Chinese actors trying to paper over illegal criminal activities by framing their actions in terms of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the China Dream, or other major initiatives of the CCP