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Lurid triad tales surface at deportation hearing

Sap Mui Vong (middle), wife of alleged Asian crime boss Lai Tong Sang, is escorted back to the hearing room after a break in an admissibility hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada in Vancouver, February 26, 2013.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Echoes from a violent, mid-1990s triad war in the gambling enclave of Macau resounded in a Vancouver hearing room, as Canadian immigration authorities launched their quest to have alleged triad boss Lai Tong Sang kicked out of the country, nearly 17 years after he arrived.

Proceedings included evidence of a million-dollar contract on the head of Mr. Lai, a subsequent drive-by shooting directed at his house on a quiet Vancouver street, a triad rival known as Chipped Tooth Koi, and bodies piling up on the streets of Macau.

Superintendent Patrick Fogarty, then heading a police unit investigating organized Asian crime, testified on Tuesday that these elements pointed clearly to Mr. Lai's involvement with one of Macau's major gangs, the Wo On Lok Triad, also known as Shui Fong.

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"When everything is put together, it leads me to believe that Mr. Lai, if not the leader, is a high-ranking member of Shui Fong, who fled to Canada to escape [the triad war]," Supt. Fogerty told the hearing.

At one point, he added, three henchmen of Mr. Lai tried to join him in Canada, but were turned back by immigration officials at the Vancouver airport.

Their failure to enter the country stands in marked contrast to the blunder by an immigration officer at Canada's Los Angeles consulate that granted Mr. Lai permanent resident status here in 1996.

The Canada Border Services Agency is moving only now to have him deported, arguing that he belongs to a criminal organization.

Mr. Lai, who turned 58 this month, was not present to hear the lurid triad tales.

He listened to proceedings through the night in Macau by telephone.

However, his wife and three adult children, who are also facing deportation, sat stoically in the front row, taking it all in.

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Supt. Fogarty said he learned of the contract on Mr. Lai through a wiretapped conversation between a contact in Vancouver and a Hong Kong member of Mr. Koi's notorious 14K triad, then engaged in a violent turf war with Shui Fong for control of Macau's lucrative casino business.

The Hong Kong caller explained there was a gang war going on between Chipped Tooth Koi and Mr. Lai, according to the veteran police officer. "There were all these dead bodies. … [The caller] said he would pay a million Hong Kong dollars, if Simon Chow would take the contract on Mr. Lai. In my world, a contract means to kill."

Mr. Chow, considered to be a Vancouver member of 14K, was later sentenced to life for an unrelated murder.

The contract prompted a frantic search for Mr. Lai's whereabouts in Vancouver, with gang associates scouring travel agencies and trying to trace his cellphone, Supt. Fogarty said.

Eventually, however, the contract on Mr. Lai was downgraded, when the two warring gangs began peace negotiations, he said.

Nonetheless, a drive-by shooting at Mr. Lai's upscale residence in Vancouver took place in July, 1997. "They did not want to start the war again, but they wanted to let him know that they could track and find him in Canada, by shooting up his house," Supt. Fogarty said. No one was injured in the attack.

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He said the wiretapped conversations between 14K triad members left little doubt Mr. Lai was a triad leader. "Nobody knows the underworld better than the underworld, and these highly sophisticated, intelligent people believed Lai Tong Sang was head of Shui Fong."

A furor erupted soon after the drive-by shooting, when the botched handling of Mr. Lai's entry into Canada became public knowledge. Facing intense criticism, the then Liberal government ordered an investigation into the mistake. The subsequent inquiry blamed the error on overworked staff at the consulate.

Two earlier applications for investor immigrant status, made by Mr. Lai in Hong Kong, had failed.

Through his lawyer, Peter Chapman, Mr. Lai is challenging CBSA's attempt to have him deported.

The hearing, before Immigration and Refugee Board member Geoff Rempel, is scheduled to conclude Thursday.

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