SYDNEY: The alleged ringleader of Asia's biggest crime syndicate and one of the world's most wanted men has been arrested in the Netherlands, with Australian authorities pushing for his extradition to face trial.
Police had been chasing alleged drug kingpin Tse Chi Lop, 57, for years until his arrest by Dutch police on Friday (Jan 22) acting on a request from Australia's federal police.
In a statement on Sunday, Australian authorities said a man "of significant interest" to law enforcement agencies had been detained. A police spokeswoman confirmed his name as Tse Chi Lop.
The Chinese-born Canadian citizen has been compared to Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
He has been named by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as the suspected leader of the Asian mega-cartel known as "Sam Gor", a major producer and supplier of methamphetamines globally.
Sam Gor is believed to launder its billions in drug money through businesses springing up in Southeast Asia's Mekong region - including casinos, hotels and real estate.
Australia's federal police said Friday's arrest followed an operation that in 2012 and 2013 nabbed 27 people linked to a crime syndicate spanning five countries.
READ: 'Everyone's high - they gonna arrest everyone?' Southeast Asian students and the lure of drugs in Australia
The group were accused of importing "substantial quantities of heroin and methamphetamine" into Australia, long a lucrative market for drug traffickers.
"The syndicate targeted Australia over a number of years, importing and distributing large amounts of illicit narcotics, laundering the profits overseas and living off the wealth obtained from crime," the Australian police said.
As part of the 2012 to 2013 raids across Melbourne, police seized A$9 million (US$7 million) worth of assets, including cash, designer handbags, casino chips and jewellery.
The arrest of Tse Chi Lop almost a decade after that operation's launch is a major breakthrough for Australian authorities.
The country's attorney-general will now begin preparing a formal extradition request for the alleged drug lord to face trial.
Most of Asia's meth comes from "Golden Triangle" border areas between Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and south-west China, which are pumping unprecedented quantities of synthetic drugs into global markets.
A study by the UNODC says Southeast Asia's crime groups are netting more than US$60 billion a year.
The production of methamphetamine - either in tablet "yaba" form or the highly potent crystallised Ice version - as well as ketamine and fentanyl, take place primarily in Myanmar's eastern Shan state, but much of the precursor chemicals needed to cook them flows across the border from China.
Thailand in 2018 netted more than 515 million yaba tablets, 17 times the amount for the entire Mekong region a decade ago, said the UNODC.
Drug hauls feature near daily in headlines across the region, with traffickers finding more creative ways to ship out their illicit products.