EXCLUSIVE Paul Phua Wei Seng, who is being charged for running an illegal gambling syndicate in famed Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, was a very “timid fellow” and had no links to the notorious 14K triad when he was busted 10 years ago in Malaysia, police sources revealed.
However he is known even then, according to the police sources, to offer millions of dollars to wiggle out of tight spots.
Phua, 51, made headlines when Home Minister Zahid Hamidi wrote a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) clearing him of links to the 14K, an international triad active in among others, drug running, illegal gambling, human trafficking, prostitution and money laundering.
According to a police source, the 2004 raid in Miri was to crack down an illegal betting ring which was operating in a condominium following a tip-off.
However, the police got a surprise bonus - the elusive ringleader himself - when Phua ( left ) was found among the 22 men arrested in the condo unit.
The sources, who have requested anonymity, said the Miri raid during the Euro Cup finals in 2004 was then hailed as the biggest illegal online gambling bust.
At that time, Phua was already a well-known figure in the online gaming circuit but it was difficult for the police to arrest him due to his “high connections”.
The raid was prepared with much secrecy; even top police officers were unaware of the operation.
"Only Phua and the condo unit owner were Malaysians, the rest (of those arrested) were from Taiwan, Vietnam and Hong Kong.
“We had never expected Phua to be there. We did much preparation. The team doing the bust was specially selected,” the source told Malaysiakini .
The source added that Phua had revealed during police interrogation that he “came to supervise the operation as he was feeling uneasy at home”.
Sophisticated hi-tech setup
“We had much difficulty entering the place, we almost gave up hope for the place was very secured,” said the police source.
The main obstacle was breaking open the door to the condo unit.
“They were smart; the door they had installed could only open outwards. So, we knew we had problems breaking down the door by force."
The source said the police decided to use other measures to entice the unsuspecting men to open the door.
“This included setting off alarms of cars nearby and making various noises, hoping they would come out to check.
“However, they did not come out despite all the noises and we were losing hope. If the game (Portugal versus Greece in 2004 Euro Cup finals) had finished, we would not be able to obtain evidence of them conducting bets,” the source said, adding that raiding online gaming syndicates can be done without warrants.
The police then made an ingenious move. One of the officers came up with the idea of cutting the Astro cable wire outside the unit.
“When we cut the wire, we could hear sounds of panic from inside the building. A few of them rushed out to check the cable connection to the satellite dish. That was when we pounced on them and stormed the place,” said the police source.
When the police entered the condo unit, they were astounded by the technology setup the ring had for their illegal online betting operation.
“They had very high-tech equipment which other betting syndicates at that time did not have.
“The place was filled with about 20 monitors and they also had an indoor parabola - a type of satellite dish which they were using to monitor the bets,” the source added.
The source said Phua was in deep shock when his gambling operation was busted.
“When he was caught, he was ashamed of being exposed in front of his henchmen. He was also trying to persuade the officer who was taking his statement to settle the case. He offered RM2 million.
“When the police officer told Phua that a deal could be made later only after he gave his statement, Phua willingly blurted out everything about the gambling ring,” the source said.
Phua was later found guilty and fined by the court. He paid the hefty fine, all in one lump sum, before leaving the country.
According to the source, Phua was an odd job worker who began his gambling career punting in the now closed-down Sungai Besi horse racing tracks.
"He then moved to soccer as he found that he could predict the outcome of football games better - that became his specialty," said the source, who said the police learned a lot about soccer online gaming syndicates from Phua during the interrogation.
Under close watch
After the arrest, Phua was placed in Interpol's soccer online gaming (Soga) watch list. Soga is an international police group which monitors illegal soccer online betting syndicates in Asia.
"He fled to Vietnam where betting online was not illegal and there he was given a licence to run a casino. But due to being watched by our international counterparts, we had to ensure he did not enter (Malaysia) during the following World Cup (in 2006).
"We believe that he joined 14K after he fled to Vietnam but when we busted him, he was not a 14K triad. He was then just a poker-faced fellow who was good at the tables," said the source, who added that they were informed later by their overseas colleagues that Phua was part of 14K.
Phua was arrested in Las Vegas last year on charges of running an illegal online gambling den during the 2014 World Cup.
His alleged links to the triad was used by FBI to convince a US judge to issue a warrant to raid his hotel suites in Caesars Palace.
Zahid, who has received flak for defending Phua, said he wrote the letter to FBI upon the request of Phua’s lawyers in the United States. However, the letter was rejected in court after prosecutors objected to its late submission.
Phua is currently out on bail in Las Vegas together with his son, Darren Phua, who was also among those arrested.
In their case claiming entrapment, the US judge had ruled on Monday that the warrant gained by FBI was flawed, but its ruse to gain entry into the hotel suites which Phua and his team were operation by cutting the Internet connection was legal.