Wednesday, December 2, 2015   

Tough guy, likeable rogue

Erick Ko and AFP

Friday, November 13, 1998

`I haven't the patience to work for a living. In this world, money is

the most important thing'


ITTING in a Guangzhou jail cell facing the prospect of the death

penalty, Hong Kong's most wanted man Cheung Tze-keung appears unfazed.

For many people who watched the police video that was broadcast on

television, Cheung, 43, seems calm, cool and collected _ an

intelligent criminal boss who staged spectacular robberies and even

beat tycoon Li Ka-shing out of $1.38 billion.

And that may well be exactly the effect he wants to create, said

Roderic Broadhurst, an associate professor of criminology at the


University of Hong Kong.

Prof Broadhurst, who knows of Cheung only through information provided

by the media, uses his knowledge of criminals to make educated guesses

to provide an insight into the man dubbed the "Big Spender".

"What you need to do is to try to put yourself into his situation,"

Prof Broadhurst said. "From there you can get a sense of how he is


"In this case there's a lot at stake. He's got a very important

self-image to protect. This is more important than if he gets off."

Cheung has definitely created a self-image for himself. Despite his

notoriety, he is known to be a likeable rogue with a heart of gold who

lavishes his friends and strangers with gifts. The money to pay for

that generosity came from a crime spree that brought in at least $2


All of that has come to an end with his conviction yesterday by a

Guangzhou court and the death penalty that came with it. Not that the

death penalty was any surprise.

"He may hope that the one thing he may be able to get out of this is

to keep his dignity intact," Prof Broadhurst said.

And so Cheung continues to maintain his tough-guy image by showing no

remorse. "Go issue your verdict as you please," Cheung told


There's an old theory about why people turn to crime, Prof Broadhurst

said. We live in a society where status is measured by money. So if

people can't get money through conventional ways, they turn to

innovative and illegal methods.

That seems the case with Cheung.

"I haven't the patience to work for a living. In this world, money is

the most important thing," he reportedly confessed after his arrests.

A life of crime doesn't mean Cheung had to be psychopathically


For a robber, violence is a tool, a means to the end. Money is the


Cheung could be tough, but as a father to two children, aged three and

seven, he showered them with all kinds of toys in their spacious

3,000-square-foot flat in Ho Man Tin, Kowloon.

He travelled well, taking his family to Europe, Australia and Africa.

Before his arrests, he visited Johannesburg in South Africa with his

wife in what would be his last overseas vacation.

Gambling was also on Cheung's card. He lost almost $200 million in one

game in Macau.

He adorned his luxury flat with golden Buddhist and Taoist deities,

believing they would bring him good luck. He also commissioned two

sphinx-like sculptures modelled after his wife.

People who befriended Cheung described him as a charming man with a

taste for fine food and liquor.

Even in jail, he reportedly asked wardens to give him expensive bird's

nest soup.

On a trip to Bangkok, he reportedly gave away tens of thousands

dollars to a young street painter.

His final fling came across the border in Shenzhen where he spent a

month in a luxury hotel showering hotel staff with tips.

He used to make people laugh with his witty banter.

"He was very cheerful and likeable, and never used foul language,"

an unidentified journalist who befriended him a decade ago told the

Hong Kong Standard.

The behaviour is like that of a "celluloid gangster", Prof

Broadhurst said. It is an appropriate comment given that his exploits

have been turned into movies.

Cheung first made it into the public eye in 1991 with a series of

armed robberies with Yip Kai-foon, who made a daring escape from jail

to become Hong Kong's most wanted criminal during his time on the run.

Cheung was arrested and jailed for 18 months in September 1991 after

robbing a security van at Kai Tak airport in a $167 million heist, but

he was acquitted and released after appeal in June 1995. The judge

ruled the evidence against Cheung was filled with so many

inconsistencies that there was no case against the appellant.

He masterminded the kidnapping of tycoons, identified by the press as

Victor Li, son of Cheung Kong Holdings tycoon Li, in 1996, and Walter

Kwok, head of Sun Hung Kai Properties, in 1997.

They are reported to have paid Cheung's gang ransoms of about $1.98

billion in total.

In his submission, Cheung admitted having planned to abduct dozens of

other tycoons.

He admitted he followed Mr Li Ka-shing, then held him in the tycoon's

house for three days until the ransom was paid.

He also claimed to have put Mr Kwok in a wooden container blindfolded

for four days, and fed him regular meals of roast pork with rice,

until Mr Kwok's wife managed to get the cash.

The image that Cheung developed helps explain the actions that led to

his downfall. Some may think that after stealing more than a million

dollars, the logical thing would be to hightail it out of Asia. But

Prof Broadhurst said such a move would have taken Cheung away from his


"You don't leave a place where you're recognised and acknowledged as

a somebody," Prof Broadhurst said.

Cheung reportedly fled to China in January after his failed attempt to

kidnap Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang, in

retaliation for the jailing of his associate, Yip, who is now serving

a 41-year sentence.

He was believed to be planning the bombings of government buildings

here when police unearthed 818 kilograms of explosives in Ma Tso Lung

in Sheung Shui in January this year.

Going to the mainland, with its well-used death penalty, may also seem

odd. But Cheung might have thought that he could buy his way out of

any jail, Prof Broadhurst said.

The move proved fatal. Cheung's criminal activities came to an end

earlier this year in the mainland following his arrest along with 35

of his gang members including 17 other Hong Kong residents.

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