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Monday, October 11, 1999 Published at 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

'Broken Tooth' goes on trial

"Broken tooth" was arrested during a police crackdown in May 1998

By Jill McGivering in Hong Kong

The trial has opened in Macau of a man accused of leading one of the Portuguese enclave's most powerful crime gangs.

Wan Kuok-koi, known locally as "Broken Tooth", appeared in court amid tight security to face a range of charges, from membership of an illegal Triad organisation to illegal gambling as well as the possession of guns and dynamite.

[ image: Post-handover leader Edmund Ho How-wah has promised tough action against gangs]
Post-handover leader Edmund Ho How-wah has promised tough action against gangs
Broken Tooth pleaded innocent to the charges, saying he was just a businessman who had nothing to do with the Fourteen-K Triad society he is accused of leading.

He is standing trial with his brother, Wan Kuok-hung, and seven other defendants.

Broken Tooth was arrested last year, shortly after a dramatic but unsuccessful attempt was made to murder Macau's chief of police.

In an earlier trial, he was acquitted of charges involving intimidation when witnesses failed to support the prosecution's case.

Wave of murders

This trial is expected to last about a month.

[ image: Tourist arrivals in the territory have dropped dramatically]
Tourist arrivals in the territory have dropped dramatically
Macau has seen a wave of gangland murders and arson attacks in the last two years, which have badly damaged the enclave's reputation and contributed to a drop in the number of tourists.

Almost all the victims have been suspected gang members or officials involved in investigations of the enclave's powerful criminal syndicates.

One suggestion is that a bloody turf war is taking place between rival gangs fighting for greater control of the illegal activities associated with the casinos before the return of the enclave to China in two months' time.

The violence has embarrassed the outgoing Portuguese administration because the issue of lawlessness threatens to dominate media coverage of the handover.

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