Paul Phua, the millionaire businessman with a penchant for poker, can’t seem to decide how to play his hand at the moment; or at least, his legal defense team seems to be having second thoughts.
In fact, after being arrested back in July on charges of running an illegal sports betting operation at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Phua has been weaving his way through a legal and political minefield.
In addition to facing charges linked to illegal sports betting, Phua is also suspected of being a member of the Asian criminal organization known as the 14K Triad.
In an effort to bolster Phua’s reputation and dispel any such speculation, Malaysia’s Home Affairs Minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, wrote a letter to the FBI explaining that Phua had no connection to the 14K triads. Moreover, Hamidi stated that Phua has been involved in a number of high-profile projects, including national security.
“To assist both your department and Mr. Phua’s legal teams, based on our information, Mr. Phua is neither a member nor is he associated with the 14K Triad. According to our records, Mr. Phua has on numerous occasions 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,” wrote Hamidi.
It was hoped Hamidi’s letter would help Phua’s case. However, the opposite seems to have occurred.
Following a complaint from Fahmi Fadzil, the Communications Director for the People’s Justice Party (the leading opposition party in Malaysia), Phua’s legal team has removed the document from its case. Concerned that the letter was an attempt to exonerate Phua, Fadzil called for the incident to be investigated.
“Mr. Zahid writing the letter comes across as very shocking not only because the letter attempts to exonerate Paul Phua, who clearly has a checkered past, but also because Mr. Zahid claims that Mr. Phua has assisted with projects of national security. I will be discussing with several Members of Parliament on formally requesting a response from Mr. Zahid in the Malaysian Parliament,” Fadzil toldÂ South China Morning.
Although Zahid’s testimonial is now out of consideration, it seems Phua has more (pseudo) supporters in Malaysia.
After being asked whether he knew of Phua or any alleged criminal links, Malaysia’s former Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Tan Sri Musa Hassan, claimed not to know him. Talking to The Malaysian Insider, Hassan, who served as IGP from 2006 to 2010, said that Phua’s name never came up in any investigations.
Moreover, it would have been the Criminal Investigation Department that dealt with matters such as organized crime.
While Malaysia’s high-ranking officials play political hot potato and try to distance themselves from Paul Phua, the man himself has been spending time in Las Vegas with his son, Darren. Both men are implicated in the illegal sports betting case, but while the legal wrangling takes place, it seems they just want to play poker again.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Phua wants his poker ban lifted while he is forced to stay in the US as the case plays out.