One of Hong Kong’s most notorious gangsters will be released from prison on Saturday after spending 16 years behind bars, the Post has learned.
Kwai Ping-hung, the “King of Thieves” and once among the city’s most wanted, will be deported to the United States immediately afterwards. Hong Kong law enforcement officers are on high alert and have mapped out routes and security measures to escort the former crime lord to Hong Kong International Airport.
The Post understands elite police officers from the Special Duties Unit (SDU), dubbed the Flying Tigers, could be on standby.
Kwai, now 59, is also known as Guan Derong and was labelled “an extremely dangerous gangster” by police. He was caught after the SDU broke into his Yau Ma Tei flat on Christmas Eve in 2003 as he slept.
The officers made the biggest seizure of firearms for nearly 30 years during the raid at that time and found a wide range of weapons, including shotguns, self-loading pistols, almost 900 rounds of ammunition and seven grenades.
Not a single shot was fired during the three-hour raid as Kwai was literally caught napping. The arrest was described as “the best Christmas gift to Hongkongers” and brought to an end an era when larger-than-life criminals armed with AK47s turned Hong Kong’s streets into shooting galleries.
According to several senior government sources, Kwai will be released from Stanley Prison, a maximum security facility, on Saturday morning.
The former gangster will leave prison accompanied by Correctional Services Department staff, who will hand him over to immigration and police officers and escorted all the way to the airport to board a flight to New York.
“Kwai is a US passport holder. So, once he gets out of jail, we have to deport him to the country where the valid travel document was issued,” the insider said.
Another source said Hong Kong law enforcement officers would escort Kwai until he boarded the flight.
“But we won’t take the flight with him as Kwai is no longer a criminal upon release. He is a free man, so he will sit on the flight on his own.”
For all of his convictions, Kwai was handed a total jail term of 24 years in 2005. A third source said Kwai received a one-third reduction for good behaviour and would walk free after serving 16 years. The insider also added Kwai mainly helped bind books while in prison and got along with inmates quite well in recent years.
During the 1980s and 90s, Hong Kong was gripped by a crime wave that saw police battling heavily armed criminals on the streets of its busiest neighbourhoods, as many crime bosses from Guangdong province sneaked into the city to carry out high-profile robberies of jewellery shops. It prompted the force to expand its structure and strengthen its arms.
Kwai came to Hong Kong illegally from mainland China in 1980 and was suspected of committing 20 armed robberies in three decades, including shooting and wounding two policemen in Mong Kok in 2001.
Then organised crime and triad bureau head, Andy Tsang Wai-hung – who later became the Commissioner of Police – posted a record HK$2 million reward for the capture of Kwai and had Interpol issued a red notice, requiring worldwide law enforcement officers to help find the wanted criminal.
Kwai was dubbed the new “King of Thieves” after notorious criminal Yip Kai-foon and “Big Spender” Cheung Tze-keung.
Yip, who was serving a 36-year stint in Stanley Prison for possession of firearms and escaping custody in 1989, could have been released at a similar time as Kwai, but died in a public hospital, aged 55, in 2017.
Cheung, who masterminded the abduction of Walter Kwok Ping-sheung and Victor Li Tzar-kuoi – son of Li Ka-shing – in the 90s, was executed by shooting in Guangzhou in 1998, aged 43. He had acquired more than HK$1 billion in ransom money.
The lives of the trio inspired the movie Trivisa, which won the Best Film award at the 36th Hong Kong Film Awards in 2017. Then deputy commander of the SDU, Frank Kwok Yam-yung, who led the raid against Kwai in 2003, became the police force’s operations chief after a management reshuffle last October, aiming to strengthen the handling of the city’s ongoing protest crisis.