Paul Phua, the Malaysian high-stakes poker player, is not a member of, and nor is he associated with, the notorious 14K Triad Hong Kong organized crime group, says one of Malaysia’s top politicians.
The statement, from the country’s Minister of Home Affairs Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, apparently contradicts information passed by Malaysian police to the FBI back in 2008, as well as documents filed to a federal court by the agency in relation to Phua’s upcoming trial.
Phua, whose real name is Phua Wei Seng, is accused of masterminding an illegal World Cup sports betting operation from luxury villas at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas over the summer, and was arrested with eight others in June following a controversial FBI sting operation.
In a letter dated December 18, which has been passed to the court by Phua’s defense team, Hamidi wrote to Deputy Director of the FBI Mark Giuliano to refute the allegations of organized crime affiliations. Phua himself has plead “not guilty” to the charges of operating a sports book, as has his son, Darren Phua, and has always denied the Triad allegations.
“Mr Phua is neither a member nor is he associated with the ‘14K Triad,’ ” states the letter. “Mr Phua has, on numerous occassions [sic], assisted the Government of Malaysia on projects affecting our national security and accordingly we continue to call upon him to assist us from time to time and as such we are eager for him to return to Malaysia.”
While Hamidi didn’t further elucidate as to the nature of the “projects” affecting national security, it seems Phua does move in political circles and even holds a diplomatic passport, having been named Ambassador to Montenegro for the tiny European state of San Marino.
However, Hamidi’s letter contradicts an FBI internal document passed to the court earlier, which states that the source of the Triad accusation was the Royal Malaysian Police (RMP), which passed the information on to the FBI’s representative in Kula Lumpar in 2008.
“The RMP (Royal Malaysian Police) has identified the 14K Triads as a local organised crime syndicate involved in illegal drugs, illegal gambling and money laundering activities in Malaysia,” states the document. “The RMP has also identified Malaysian Phua Wei Seng as a 14K Triad member.”
The trial is currently postponed while the judge considers a ruling on whether the FBI improperly entered the three luxury apartments in Caesars Palace without a warrant before arresting the alleged members of the operation.
Agents initially switched off Internet access before posing as repair technicians in order to gain crucial video evidence. The defense is motioning to have this evidence dismissed, claiming it is a violation of its clients’ Fourth Amendment rights.
The trial’s other five defendants, who had all pleaded guilty, were sentenced this week to unsupervised probation and fines.