Charles Heung Wah Keung assures skeptics he’s not a member of a Chinese triad criminal family. It’s just a role he’s played many times in movies.
Trouble is, his family is historically tied to the enormous Sun Yee On triad, which, according to published reports, his father, Heung Chin, founded in 1919. Law enforcement doesn’t seem to believe the son parted with the father’s ways.
And now an investigative website has linked the longtime action movie producer to Sun City Group, a prominent Macau casino VIP room operator. Working on behalf of the International Union of Operating Engineers, researcher Jeffrey Fiedler has developed Casinoleaks-Macau.com, and last week the site produced numerous public documents that raise questions about Heung’s business.
It’s not exactly hot news that Macau casino VIP rooms have shady pedigrees. Some former operators have long been connected to triad organized crime members and associates. But now that licensed Nevada gaming titans such as Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn have opened mega-casinos that are generating billions in annual profits, a new day is supposed to have dawned in the traditional smuggler’s paradise.
A majority of casino profits in Macau are generated from VIP rooms, whose operators not only recruit players and act as junket representatives, but also are known to help collect debts. Sun City Group is a major player in the business.
Heung is well-known in Asia as a movie producer, actor and businessman who has played an integral role in the development of action-film superstars Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat. To further confuse matters, Heung has produced blockbuster action movies with organized crime and casino themes through his China Star Entertainment Group. The questions authorities ask is whether his art has been imitating his life.
Heung has consistently maintained that he isn’t part of a crime family. Even some of his detractors say he’s “one of the good gangsters.”
But the website compiled documents that show law enforcement for years has been wondering just how “good” Heung really is. (In litigation by former Sands China executive Steve Jacobs, it is said that the company conducted background investigations of Heung and Wo Hop To triad officer Cheung Chi Tai.)
According to an article in the New Republic, “Charles was one of several Heung brothers identified in 1992 by the United States Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations as top office-bearers in the Sun Yee On.” The Sun Yee On is considered one of the largest and most successful triad groups in all Asia with more than 60,000 members. It has revealed its connections from the street to the highest levels of Chinese government, according to a variety of sources.
Although the triad’s members have created numerous legitimate businesses with its illegitimate income, the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong reports, ” the veneer of legitimacy stops there. The Sun Yee On is deeply involved in activities that are the lifeblood of any triad society — extortion, money laundering, loan sharking, drug trafficking, illegal arms, gambling, prostitution, smuggling of illegal immigrants, credit card fraud, blackmail, debt collection and intimidation.”
That sounds like a plot line of one of Heung’s movies. Whether all those kung fu kicks and semiautomatic shootouts are based in reality remains unclear.
What’s also publicly murky is Heung’s current status as a Las Vegas visitor. In this area, the opinions of sources differ. Law enforcement sources do, however, confirm that in recent years Heung was sighted at a Strip megaresort during the Chinese New Year celebration receiving the kind of VIP treatment reserved for casino high rollers.
Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli so far has offered sparse commentary on the revelations contained on the Casinoleaks-Macau site, and an MGM spokesman recently panned its findings.
Heung has long insisted that law enforcement has it wrong. He’s not a member of any triad.
He tries to go straight, but someone keeps dragging him back in.
–John L Smith, The Las Vegas Review Journal