|For many years, we have been the most frequent guests of The Four Seasons Tented Camp located in Thailand in an area known at The Golden Triangle where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar join. From the “Black and White Days” of the 1960’s, The Golden Triangle has been known as a wild and wooly drug smuggling center. When one is resident in the wonderful Tented Camp, it is hard to imagine that anything untoward is going on beyond the jungle setting. The image below is taken from a mountaintop at the highest point on the property where one can see the three countries.
Just outside of the photo frame above, the highly garish Kings Romans Casino sits on a strip of land in Laos. This casino has been singled out by the U.S. Department of the Treasury as a hotspot of drug trafficking and money laundering. Zhao Wei, the Chinese chairman of the dodgy casino group has ridiculed the charges. However, the center of gravity for casinos and money laundering is rapidly shifting to Cambodia.
Somehow, we never sought to hop a boat on the river to pay the casino a visit. From the Four Seasons Tented Camp, you would not know it existed though we happened to be there once during Chinese New Year when the loudspeakers, Chinese music and fireworks were deafening.
Recently, the Nikkei Asia Week published an article entitled Cambodia and Laos Casinos Targeted for Drug-Trade Money Laundering. The Thai Narcotics Suppression Bureau seized 459 kilograms of methamphetamine in July that likely came from the Shan State of Myanmar. Interestingly, during the Vietnam War era, the author knew a Colonel Chang of the Thai Communist Suppression who had a “license to kill.” The basic theme carried over to the Thaksin days as Prime Minister with a certain Thai government group empowered to conduct extrajudicial drug-related killings which resulted in occasional corpses in the rivers shown above. The value of the region’s annual methamphetamine market is estimated to be $61.4 billion - more than double the Cambodian economy of $24 billion.
Accordingly, casinos which serve as perfect money laundering institutions, have sprung up all over the region and most particularly in Cambodia. The once sleepy village of Sihanoukville has been transformed into an Asian Vegas through Chinese-led development projects. The casinos are ideal laundromats as they have currency exchanges and currency wire services next to the gambling tables. The gamblers are all Chinese with stacks of $100 bills-no need for chips. Everything is facilitated as Cambodia has a U.S. dollar-based economy rather than its official currency, the “reel.” What an interesting definition of Sihanoukville as a Special Economic Development Zone.
New apartments, hotels and casinos have transformed the place and not necessarily for the better. In reality, it is not unlike when one flies from Bogota, Columbia to Panama City, Panama as another example of drug money fleeing to another jurisdiction and safe harbor. In fact, 150 of the 234 casinos in Southeast Asia are located in Cambodia.
Crackdowns on meth labs in China resulted in the heart of the business moving to the Shan State of Myanmar. The region had always been a lawless area with a traditional economy based upon opium and heroin and has now become the epicenter of global meth production. Specific producers pack their meth in tea bags with identifiable names which was not unlike heroin in the old days. In fact, the meth bags put on display by the Thai Narcotics Suppression Bureau reflect the name brand in Chinese.