US hits notorious Laos casino with sanctions

The US says the Kings Romans Casino in northern Laos is a hub of illicit drugs, money laundering, and human trafficking

The US Treasury Tuesday placed the notorious Kings Romans Casino in the Golden Triangle region of Laos on its organized crime sanctions blacklist, calling it a hub of trafficking in humans, drugs and protected animals. The Treasury said the Chinese casino owner Zhao Wei heads a formidable "transnational criminal organization" operating from the gaming resort in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone on the Mekong River near Ton Pheung, Laos, close to where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet. "The Zhao Wei crime network engages in an array of horrendous illicit activities, including human trafficking and child prostitution, drug trafficking, and wildlife trafficking," said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, in a statement. "We are targeting key figures in this transnational criminal organization, which stretches from the Kings Romans Casino in Laos throughout Southeast Asia," she said. The Treasury said the nine-year-old casino, ostensibly built to cater to tourists from southern China, is used to store and distribute narcotics from Myanmar's United Wa State Army, and launder money. Since 2014, drug seizures in Thailand, Laos, and China have been traced to the Casino, it said. It also said the Zhao Wei group "permits and promotes human trafficking and child prostitution." Visitors to the casino widely report protected species such as bear, tiger and pangolin being available to eat in the casino's restaurant. The Treasury named Su Guiqin, another Chinese national, Australian Abbas Eberahim and Thai Nat Rungtawankhiri as other key actors in the Zhao Wei organization. Two Hong Kong companies and one Thai-based firm were also listed for sanctions. The sanctions freezes the US-based assets of those on the blacklist and ban any US person or company from doing business with them.