A controversial Chinese casino tycoon with an extensive business network in Laos is looking to develop travel facilities in remote parts of the Southeast Asian country, sources in Laos told RFA.
Zhou Wei, sanctioned by the US Treasury Department as the leader of a “transnational crime organization”, owns Dok Ngiew Kham Group and is a co-owner of Kings Romans International (HK) Co., Limited, the company that operates Kings Romans Casino in Laos’ Golden Triangle SEZ. He is believed to have de facto control over the SEZ, which caters primarily to Chinese tourists.
Zhao visited South Laos’ Saravan province on March 27 to meet with Governor Phoxay Xayasone to discuss the possibility of developing an airport and investing in several agricultural and tourism development projects, the offcials said. .
The Governor takes him to see a large estate in Saravan’s Ta-Oey district, available for farming, breeding or construction of tourist attractions. Zhao saw plots in the Samoey district of Saravan, bordering Vietnam to the east, where he might plan to build a road.
Officials from Saravan province confirmed Zhao’s visit in comments with Lao RFA Radio on March 31.
“Mr. Zhao Wei met with the governor of the province then did a land survey in Samoy district … He is looking to invest in agricultural development,” said an official who did not want to be identified.
Another official told RFA that Zhao was with land surveyors.
“They conducted a survey of land near the Laos-Vietnam border to grow commercial crops. They just look around, they don’t have a concrete plan to do anything yet, ”said the second official, who asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons.
A farmer in Ta-Oey district told RFA that China’s agricultural development projects are worrisome, for reasons of pollution and trade.
“The Chinese will use a lot of chemicals, and that is bad for the environment. Chemicals will also make their products look better than ours and will lower prices, ”said the farmer.
Zhao’s company is currently engaged in a feasibility study for a similar project in Xieng Khoang province, northern Laos. The company examined a piece of land in Pek district near the Plain of Jars, a large archaeological landscape and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that includes thousands of large prehistoric stone containers scattered across the area .
“Trieu Vy visited this place in August last year. He is looking for about 150 hectares of land for agricultural and tourism development, including building hotels, raising cows and growing organic vegetables, ”an official from the Provincial Department of Planning and Investment told RFA.
“In May last year, Zhao Wei signed a memorandum of understanding with the Lao government allowing him to conduct a feasibility study on a 150-hectare site to develop a tourist attraction complex, one Traditional medicine factory and a golf course. The central government has allowed him to do the feasibility study because he has the experience and money, but there is no concession agreement yet, ”the official said.
The MoU states that Dok Ngiew Kham Group will provide capital, technology and markets for local farmers to raise and grow organic vegetables. The farmers will sell what they grow to Dok Ngiew Kham, then export the bulk to China.
Local scholars are concerned that the consortium plans to turn the Plain of Jars into a tourist attraction while at the casino.
“Chinese investments should only be limited to the tourism sector because the Plain of Jars is one of the World Heritage Sites of Laos. It needs to be protected, ”a Lao scholar told RFA. The jars are estimated to be 3,000 years old or older.
“The project cannot include casinos. Casinos bring a lot of problems like crime. Scholars should only allow them near border areas such as in Bokeo and Savannakhet provinces.
In addition to Saravan and Xieng Khouang, Zhao explored a similar project in Houaphanh province, northeastern Laos. During his August 2020 meeting with governor Houaphanh, Zhao said he wanted to build roads and tourist attractions in Houaphanh and invest in the area’s livestock industry.
Golden Triangle Airport
Dok Ngiew Kham Group in 2017 canceled plans to build a $ 150 million international airport at the Golden Triangle SEZ. The group asked for permission to pursue this plan again, a source from RFA Lao Service confirmed.
RFA reported in October 2020 that the company has begun construction of a new port on the Mekong River to serve the SEZ. Zhao and then Deputy Prime Minister Bounthong Chitmany were present at the port’s groundbreaking ceremony on October 3.
In 2018, the US Treasury Department declared Zhao Wei’s network a “transnational crime organization” (TCO) and imposed sanctions on Zhao and three other individuals and three companies across the country. Laos, Thailand and Hong Kong.
“Based in Laos in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GTSEZ), Zhao Wei TCO exploits the area by engaging in drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, bribery and trafficking. wildlife, the vast majority of which are facilitated through Kings Romans Casino located within the GTSEZ, ”a Ministry of Finance statement said.
Report of the Lao Language Service of RFA. Translation of Max Avary. Written in English by Eugene Whong.