`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
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
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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