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Jeff German

Malaysian official intervenes in illegal betting case

30 December 2014

LAS VEGAS -- A top Malaysian government official has intervened in the high-profile federal case in Las Vegas stemming from the FBI raid on an international gambling operation at Caesars Palace.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Malaysia’s minister of home affairs, sent a letter earlier this month to Deputy FBI Director Mark Giuliano in Washington rebutting FBI claims that the lead defendant in the high-stakes betting case is tied to a powerful Chinese crime syndicate known as the 14K Triad. The defendant, Paul Phua, is a wealthy Malaysian businessman known on the worldwide professional poker circuit.

Hamidi, who oversees intelligence and security services in Malaysia, told Giuliano that legal teams for Phua in that country and the United States informed him of the organized crime allegations and asked him to write the letter.

“As such, to assist both your department and Mr. Phua’s legal teams, based on our information, Mr. Phua is neither a member nor is he associated with the 14K Triad,” Hamidi wrote.

“Moreover, according to our records, Mr. Phua has on numerous occasions assisted the government of Malaysia on projects affecting our national security and accordingly we continue to call upon him to assist us from time to time, and as such we are eager for him to return to Malaysia.”

Hamidi concluded, “With the above, we look towards the good international relations between our two countries, especially in the exchange of information.”

He said he was looking forward to a reply from Giuliano.

Hamidi was in Washington in October to sign an agreement with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to increase immigration security for both countries.

Defense lawyers David Chesnoff and Thomas Goldstein, who previously accused federal authorities here of having flimsy triad evidence against Phua, filed a copy of Hamidi’s letter in federal court Monday seeking to make it part of the record in the criminal case.

The trial of Phua and his son, Darren Phua, has been put off indefinitely until U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen decides whether FBI agents violated their constitutional rights by conducting a warrantless search prior to the July 9 court-authorized raid at luxury villas at Caesars Palace.

Natalie Collins, a spokeswoman for the Nevada U.S. attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the Phuas, declined to comment on the Malaysian minister’s letter.

Both Phuas, who are free on bail posted by professional poker star Phil Ivey, are facing federal felony charges tied to the betting operation uncovered at Caesars Palace with the help of the resort. Five other defendants charged in the multimillion-dollar betting scheme pleaded guilty earlier this month, and charges against a sixth were dismissed.

Federal prosecutors have alleged that the scheme accepted wagers on the World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil and that the group made a $13 million profit in June and July.

Prosecutors said in court documents they believed Paul Phua is a ranking member of the 14K Triad.

They produced FBI reports in their court filings that show agents received information from Malaysian authorities in 2009 linking Phua and another key defendant in the case, Richard Yong, to the Hong Kong-based crime group.

Yong, whose lawyer strongly denied any triad ties, was among those who pleaded guilty in the case. He received five years of probation, a hefty fine and was ordered to stay out of the United States during that period. He has since left the country for his home in Malaysia.

In November, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that FBI agents obtained evidence during the Caesars raid tying a reputed ranking member of another Chinese Triad to the World Cup betting ring.

Documents seized by agents show a Macau casino junket company associated with Cheung Chi-Tai — whom authorities have identified as a leader of the Hong Kong-based Wo Hop To Triad — was among several companies the betting organization was believed to have used to settle up wagers with its wealthy customers.

Defense lawyers denied ties between Cheung and the betting group.