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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Taiwan's 'Dry Duck' gets his feathers clipped

Taiwan's 'Dry Duck' gets his feathers clipped

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THE forty-year crime career of Chen Chi-li, 'spiritual leader' of Taiwan's Bamboo

Union gang, was interrupted on July 9 by a police raid on Chen's sprawling Toul Kork

villa.

Chen Chi-li the 'spritual leader' of the Taiwanese Bamboo Union Gang following

his arrest in Phnom Penh , July 9, on weapons charges

The 58 year-old Chen, known in gang circles by his nickname "Dry Duck",

now faces charges of illegal use and possession of firearms as well as membership

in an illegal armed group after police discovered an arms cache of twenty assault

rifles and handguns, an M-79 grenade launcher and 2,000 rounds of ammunition. Police

also discovered two Cambodian passports, one of them diplomatic, and a Singaporean

passport bearing Chen's photo.

Two other Taiwanese nationals face similar charges while a fourth suspect was released

for lack of evidence.

If convicted on all charges Chen could be sentenced to a maximum prison term of fifteen

years.

However, a Taiwanese organized crime expert cautions that Chen's Cambodian legal

difficulties will prove to be no more than a minor inconvenience for the wealthy,

well-connected Taiwanese gang leader.

"Chen may do a few weeks or a few months in prison, but he'll get out sooner

rather than later," Yang Ching Hai, a retired twenty-year veteran of Taiwan's

Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau and an expert on Taiwanese gangland politics

told the Post. "There are too many people with too much money who are obligated

to get him out of prison."

Yang attributes the loyalty and financial resources at Chen's disposal to a four

decade career in which he rose from the lowest ranks of Taiwan's largest criminal

syndicate to become its longest serving leader.

The son of a mainland Chinese judge who joined the 1949 exodus to Taiwan of more

than 1.5 million of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-sheks' Kuomintang (KMT) forces following

their defeat at the hands of communist forces , Chen joined the Bamboo Union in the

late 1950s.

Hong Kong-based triad expert Leung Yat-chan told the Post that within twenty years,

both Chen and the Bamboo Union were approaching the pinnacle of their success.

"By the 1970s, the Bamboo Union had expanded from its twelve branches within

Taiwan to all over the world, with chapters in Macau, Hong Kong, the US and Europe,"

Leung said. "Chen Chi-li's official designation within the organization was

"Lao Ya", which can be translated as "the smallest", but within

the Bamboo Union actually meant the biggest and most important."

A Taiwanese Bamboo Union member in Cambodia who spoke strictly on the condition of

anonymity confirmed Leung's description of Chen's prominence in the crime syndicate.

"The bravest, the coolest one, the one who would fight the hardest and kill

the most for the organization, he was "Lao Ya"," the gang member said

of Chen's role in the organization.

By 1984 Chen's reputation for effortlessly punctuating ruthlessness and loyalty to

the KMT with sharp business acumen was cemented by his role in the notorious 1984

assassination of Taiwanese dissident journalist Henry Liu in Daly City, California.

The order for the murder was later traced to highest levels of Taiwan's defense intelligence

apparatus, allegedly in retaliation for Liu's publication of a highly critical biography

of Taiwan's then-President Chiang Chien-kuo.

"Bamboo [Union] boss Dry Duck was told to arrange the killing," Sterling

Seagrave writes in his Lords of the Rim. "In return, his gang would be allowed

to take over all KMT heroin deliveries to America."

According to Seagrave, Chen was so pleased by the deal that he financed the killing

out of his own pocket, "refusing reimbursement or per diem".

After serving a six year prison term for his role in the killing, Chen resumed the

helm of the Bamboo Union's criminal network, diversifying the syndicate's business

interests into the fixing of Taiwanese professional baseball games and funneling

illegal gang profits into the island's construction boom.

A change in the Taiwanese government's traditional blind-eye policy to organized

crime combined with a protracted gang conflict with the rival Taiwanese Four Seas

Gang, which culminated in the murder of Chen's son in an elevator in a Taipei KTV

parlor , prompted Chen to go into exile in 1996.

Chen is believed to have arrived in Cambodia via China in early 1997.

"Cambodia has been a favorite place for Taiwanese gangsters, particularly Bamboo

Union members, since the early nineties," Yang said.

Under Chen's guidance, Bamboo Union members won the gratitude of the Taiwanese business

community in Cambodia by facilitating armed escorts of frightened Taiwanese investors

to Pochentong airport during the July 1997 fighting.

"The Bamboo Union provided armed guards to take people to the airport during

the fighting," a Taiwanese resident of Phnom Penh told the Post. "The official

Taiwanese representatives were actually advising people trying to get out of the

country to contact Chen and his people for assistance."

After the closing of Taiwan's official representative office in the aftermath of

the July 1997 fighting, Chen and the Bamboo Union became the defacto leaders and

protectors of the Taiwanese expatriate community in Cambodia right up until the time

of his arrest.

"Whenever new Taiwanese investors came to Cambodia to set up a business, a visit

to Chen's villa was obligatory," a Taiwanese source said. "Investors would

introduce themselves and offer Chen a hom bow (gift of money) as a gesture of their

respect."

Chen cemented relations with the post-July 1997 government of Hun Sen by acquiring

both an honorary royal Okhna status - usually acquired through contributions in excess

of $100,000 - as well as an official advisor's position to Senate President Chea

Sim.

A member of Chea Sim's staff said on condition of anonymity that the advisor position

had been granted to Chen "several months after the Senate began operations"

(in April 1999) and was withdrawn for unknown reasons in March.

Former members of a Taiwanese NGO have told the Post that prior to the start-up of

their operations in late 1998 they were assured by NGO management in Taipei that

Chen and his followers "could be counted on to evacuate us if the security situation

deteriorated as it did in 1997".

According to the Bamboo Union member who spoke to the Post, Chen funded his operations

in Cambodia by investing in numerous businesses, including a Bamboo Union owned and

operated garment factory.

Yang cites less salubrious Bamboo Union investments in Cambodia.

"They [the Bamboo Union] are known to operate numerous brothels and there have

been reports that they are involved in the production of amphetamines, but exactly

where we don't know," he said.

Yang scoffs at Prime Minister Hun Sen's declaration of the government's intent to

"destroy" Taiwanese organized crime elements in the Kingdom.

"It's not over yet," Yang said of Bamboo Union gang activity in Cambodia.

"These people don't give up easily."

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