Blog note: And great earthquakes shall be in diverse places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. (Luke 21:11). Jesus is giving a series of prophecies about what to look for as the age of grace comes to a close. This verse from Luke is one of many such prophecies from throughout the Bible. 2017 was the worst year in recorded history for the intensity, frequency, severity, duration and occurrence of a large number of severe natural disasters worldwide. Earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones, torrential flooding, unprecedented wildfires in unusual places, devastating droughts, excessive/scorching heat setting records everywhere, record snowfalls in Europe and Russia. Snow in the Arabia. This list can go on. Most studied eschatologists believe these ‘fearful sights’ and massive natural disasters are all part of the ‘CONVERGENCE’ of signs that this Biblical and prophetic age is closing. Most people who study prophecy are familiar with the routine reference(s) made that these things will be like a woman having labor pains that occur in greater severity, frequency, size and duration prior to giving birth. End of note.
Asia’s meth boom (Part 2)
How a war on drugs went continent-wide
By Joshua Berlinger, CNN
All that money has to go somewhere, and law enforcement say drug dealers are using intricate financial networks to hide their ill-gotten gains. The most prominent — at least publicly — is the case of the Zhao Wei, a gambling magnate accused by the US government of using his casino in Laos to help the UWSA launder proceeds from the sale of meth. Casinos are used for laundering because they involve so much cash trading hands, but Zhao has the added benefit of operating inside what Douglas at the UNODC calls a “criminal mini-state.” “It operates like his personal fiefdom,” Douglas said.
Zhao has reportedly negotiated a 99-year lease with the Lao government to operate what’s known as the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone. The zone lies along the Mekong River that flows between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. At its center sits the Kings Romans casino. Zhao’s agreement with the Lao government allows his business to operate under its own set of unique laws, rules and regulations. The only areas in which Zhao defers to the central government are on matters related to the military, the judiciary, and Lao foreign policy, Zhao told Chinese state media in 2011.
The system is ostensibly designed to help attract foreign investors into the speciale conomic zone. However, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Zhao and the casino in January, alleging that Zhao uses the lax regulation to help facilitate “the storage and distribution of heroin, methamphetamine,and other narcotics for illicit networks, including the United Wa State Army,operating in neighboring Burma.” Zhao has persistently maintained that the accusations leveled against him are “groundless.”
“The US government’s unilateral sanctions on other countries and regions is unreasonable and ridiculous behavior and for other purposes. Such behavior has created profound misunderstanding for the world community thus causing unnecessary concern for a number of investors and visitors,” he said in February,shortly after the Treasury Department ruling, according to Lao state media.”The Kings Romans Group’s investment and development strictly complies with the law and signed agreements. There are neither reasons nor motivations for us to run illegal businesses. On the contrary, we have cooperated with the government of Laos to prevent and combat strictly illegal acts.”
The Lao Ministry of Planning and Investment did not respond to CNN’s request for comment, and the US Drug Enforcement Agency declined CNN’s request for an interview for this story “due to some ongoing activity related to the case.”
The US Treasury Department, which did not respond to CNN’s request for comment for this story, alleges that a key cog in Zhao’s operation sits thousands of miles away from his casino in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. That cog is a company called Kings Romans International (HK) Co., Limited. It and Zhao were both sanctioned by the Treasury Department in January of this year. According to records from the US Treasury Department and the Hong Kong Corporate Registry, the business is housed in a spartan office tower called Wu Chung House nestled in a commercial part of the city’s busy Wan Chai district, a fast gentrifying red light district still famous for its seedy bars.
The Treasury did not specify what exactly goes on in the office. Hong Kong, however, maintains a reputation as a notorious hub for moving dirty money, with authorities in the city openly acknowledging the problem. “Our competitive advantages here — namely, free flows of capital, people, goods and information; well established legal system; sophisticated market infrastructure; and advanced professional services — also make our market attractive for criminals seeking to hide or move funds or evade financial sanctions,” Arthur Yuen, the deputy chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), said in April, during a speech at a conference sponsored by the Association of Certified Anti Money Laundering Specialists.
The Kings Romans office is supposed to be located at the end of a dimly lit hallway on the 36th floor of Wu Chung House, according to public records, but there was no sign of it when CNN visited. The building’s directory shows that a company called Shuen Wai Holding Limited uses the office space. Real estate records confirm that Shuen Wai is the property’s owner.
Shuen Waiand Kings Romans share more than just an address, however. Shuen Wai and one of its two company directors were sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in 2008 amid allegations that the office was a key part of the financial network used by the UWSA to launder profits from drug sales. “It makes total sense that the UWSA would be operating out of Hong Kong. They have a long history of mixing illicit with legal activities … and Hong Kong is the perfect place to do that for them,” said Evan Rees, an analyst at the intelligence firm Strat for.
Down the dark hallway at the office’s entrance, Shuen Wai is the only business that’s visible. Its name is displayed in shiny block letters above an empty secretary’s desk. It was decorated with ornate wooden sculptures and marble floors, but with half the lights off and no one in sight. The fact that the business was highly visible was a surprise to some of the sanctions experts CNN spoke with about the case. “They usually at least make an effort to repaint the sign, even if it is the same address and same cast of characters in front of you,” said Peter Harrell, a sanctions expert at the Center for New American Security who previously served as deputy assistant secretary for counter threat finance and sanctions in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.
“Operating 10 years without changing the name, that’s pretty brazen.” When CNN rang the doorbell at the office, a middle-aged, bespectacled man answered. He said the company was previously involved in the jade trade but now works in funeral services. He refused to give CNN his name, but said he had been an account manager at the company for 20 years, during which time he has known the two individuals currently listed as Shuen Wai’s co-directors. He said the duo are based in mainland China and only come to Hong Kong a few times a year, a couple days at a time. He agreed to pass on a message to them from CNN — which they did not respond to — and then retreated back into the office. When CNN called back a couple days later, the individual said the couple was not willing to speak to CNN.
When asked about the Wu Chung House connections, the UN’s Douglas stressed that each case is different and the age of a specific holding company was not something he could comment on. “That said, if the holding company has been a front for drug trafficking for 10 years it is pretty serious and concerning, and authorities should be investigating,” said Douglas. “If links are found and organized crime activities are confirmed then there should be some serious actions taken, and questions will need to be asked about how a front company has been able to run for so long in the open in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong authorities declined to comment when asked about the case.
Categories: Pestilence Update