Washington Post


The China Connection
How Crime and Politics come together ... again

By John Pomfret

Sunday, December 31, 2000

SHENZHEN, China -- Chang An-lo sat down to a sumptuous feast. In front of him, lobster sashimi. To his left, fat braised chunks of abalone. To his right, a massive bowl of shark fin soup with angel-hair rice noodles.

"Big Brother Chang," one of his guests intoned. "It is good to see you so healthy!"

Chang is one of the most wanted men in Taiwan, sought by the island's criminal investigation division for the past four years for alleged involvement in organized crime as a leader of the Bamboo Union gang, a mafia-like organization that claims 15,000 members.

He has already served seven years in three U.S. federal prisons for a 1986 conviction for conspiring to traffic in heroin. But in China he walks free.

Although his activities might be anathema to officials on Taiwan and even in Beijing, the Chinese capital, here in Shenzhen, just north of Hong Kong, his ties to Taiwan and to potential dealmakers and smugglers abroad make him a potential ally to the rich and the aspirant rich alike.

Chang's presence underscores an uncomfortable issue in a rapidly changing China -- ties between organized crime figures and the Communist Party.

Much has been written about the nexus in Russia of organized crime figures and the oligarchs who grabbed much of the wealth after the fall of communism. China faces the same issues, although its Communist Party remains in control of the country.

The ties were dramatized last week when an official Chinese newspaper reported that Mu Suixin, the mayor of Shenyang, a major city in northeastern China, was under investigation for his links to Asian gangs called triads. Mu has resigned.

A Shenyang deputy mayor, Ma Xiangdong, has already been arrested and accused of gambling $4.8 million in public funds in Macau, a former Portuguese territory in southeastern China that is a hotbed of gangster activity.

In another case, the head of China's military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Ji Shengde, has been sentenced to 15 years for his involvement in organized criminal activities involving Lai Changxing, the alleged boss of a smuggling racket worth billions and closely connected with criminal organizations in Taiwan and Hong Kong, according to a Hong Kong-based newspaper whose report was confirmed by Chinese officials. Lai subsequently fled to Canada, where he is fighting deportation.

Moreover, the official New China News Agency reported on Dec. 27 that Deputy Mayor Ye Defan of Hangzhou, a major industrial and tourist center in eastern China, has been arrested for taking "large amounts of money and gifts" without saying where they came from.

Taiwanese police estimate that at least 192 outlaws, including some convicted criminals, are hiding in China, mostly in Dongguan, Guangzhou and Shenzhen in Guangdong province; Xiamen and Fuzhou in Fujian province; and Shanghai, and on Hainan island.

Many are still directing their henchmen in Taiwan, and some have collaborated with mainland criminal rings to conduct cross-strait drug trafficking or human and firearms smuggling. Chang said in an interview that reading and writing are his main activities here in Shenzhen.

But the Chinese police said he has continued to run extortion rackets. Last year, they said, they stymied Chang's attempt to monopolize the sale of rice to hundreds of factories run by Taiwanese businesses in southern China -- an attempt Chang acknowledged but that he depicted as just a business deal gone bad.

Chang's politics make him an attractive ally to Beijing despite his record. Born in Nanjing in 1948, one year before the Communist takeover, Chang is a committed proponent of Taiwan's reunification with China.

In his spare time, he is working on a logo combining the flag of the People's Republic of China with that of the Republic of China. "One country, two systems is a great idea," Chang said, repeating the formulation of the late senior Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping. "It is the way forward for Taiwan."

Chinese police say they have not dealt with Chang mainly because they have not been able to build a case. "It's a problem of evidence," said Sun Biao, a senior police officer in Shenzhen.

But others have a different explanation: "It's a question of guanxi," said a Chinese security official, using the Chinese word for connections.

On a recent evening, Chang certainly had powerful guests. Sharing his fishy feast were the son of a man who is arguably the Communist Party's senior theoretician and the son of the former dean of the Communist Party School. They, too, called him "Big Brother Chang."

On that night, they were talking not theory, but business. "So how do you think we can get a monopoly in garlic?" was one question.

In 1986, Chang had his 15 minutes of fame in the United States, where he was known as "White Wolf." He was one of nine men convicted on drug and racketeering charges for their part in a Taiwan-based international crime ring, the Bamboo Union gang, which according to U.S. and Taiwanese court records also carried out a politically motivated killing in Daly City, Calif., in 1984.

The victim, Henry Liu, a crusading Taiwanese American journalist, had written an unflattering biography of Chiang Ching-kuo, Taiwan's president at the time. Court cases in the United States and Taiwan showed that officials in Taiwan's military intelligence service ordered his killing. Chang served time in three federal prisons -- in Leavenworth, Kan., Allentown, Pa., and Oakdale, La. -- and then made his way back to Taiwan, where he became involved in the construction business.

By 1995, Chang was having problems with the law. He traveled to China in June 1996 to check out a possible investment in a wig factory. He returned home, but after a warrant was issued for his arrest linking him, local media said, to a debt scandal, the murder of a Taiwanese legislator and construction fraud, he fled to China.

Chang said he got into trouble over a government plan to offer amnesty to members of organized crime in exchange for confessions and a promise not to engage in further illegal activities. "I thought it was bogus," Chang said. "I thought it was like China's Cultural Revolution, where they wanted people to draw a line between enemies and friends. I wouldn't do it."

Chang said he refused specifically to agree to a Taiwanese government ban on contacting his friends in organized crime, including Chen Chi-li, who was convicted in Taiwan in 1985 of involvement in Henry Liu's murder.

Chen fled in 1996 for Cambodia, where he is said to be engaged in smuggling drugs, jewels and guns. "These people are my friends," Chang said. "Would you abandon your friends?"

In April 1998, Chang's son was stabbed to death following a fight with a member of the Four Seas gang in an elevator at a Taipei karaoke club. More than 2,000 gang members, politicians, businessmen and entertainers from around the island gathered at Taipei's Second Funeral Parlor to pay their respects. More than 40 lawmakers and celebrities sent flowers. The funeral cortege, which included about 70 Cadillacs, stretched more than a mile.

"I cannot deny that I have influence," Chang said, "but I never used my influence to commit crimes." He acknowledged being involved in a gang when he was a teenager. Since then, he said, despite a lengthy rap sheet in Taiwan, he has been misunderstood. He denied he ever committed crimes in the United States.

Like many alleged Taiwanese gangsters, Chang retains a keen interest in politics because politics and organized crime have a long, intertwined history that precedes the ascent of the Chinese Communist Party.

His knowledge of modern Chinese history is deep. "Reading and writing, that's going to be my future life," Chang said in an interview. "I'm planning my memoirs.

He said that he resents the police probes in Taiwan and China, and that his main source of income is the wig factory -- $1,250 a month. "Some officers try to look into my financial situation," he said. "They think I have made money here. There have been too many rumors. They think I deal drugs or smuggle."

There are some signs that time might be running out for Chang. In November, Chinese authorities quietly arrested and expelled a senior Taiwanese gangster, Yang Kuang-nan, chief of the Four Seas gang. Police in Shanghai arrested Yang while he was having dinner with eight companions in a noodle restaurant.

"We welcome Chang An-lo to return to Taiwan and face the law," said Chang Su-lin, a section chief of Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Division. Replied Chang An-lo: "When the time is right."