Covid-19 crisis triggers bloody Triad turf war in Hong Kong

Lockdowns squeeze crime groups’ illicit cash flow as gang members muscle into rival territories

Hong Kong crime gangs are locked in a bloody turf war as they fight over “scraps” amid the fallout from the Covid-19 crisis.

City-wide lockdowns and the closure of entertainment venues, such as karaoke bars, have strangled the illicit cash flow to Triad organizations from prostitution, drugs and extortion rackets.

Violent clashes have broken out as low-ranking gang members try to muscle into new territory and take over rival operations, a former senior officer with close links inside the Hong Kong Police has revealed.

The facts:

  • Inter-gang violence has been increasing, according to the former senior police officer.
  • In September, a suspected faction leader of the Wo Shing Wo Triad was shot at close range in a movie-style gangland hit by a masked gunman on a motorcycle.
  • Police said the shooting was related to a dispute over money from a smuggling ring.
  • Last month, the assets of Wan Kuok-koi were frozen in the United States. He is better known as “Broken Tooth” and heads the notorious Hong Kong-based 14K gang.

What was said: “The city’s Triads are battling over scraps as the city’s economy shrinks because of the lockdowns. But this underworld war is not being covered by local media. There are also few official details of inter-gang violence,” the former Hong Kong police senior officer said.

Inside the Triads: “To protect their business, they recruit young people as junior gang members through a dai lo-lan tsai (protector-protégé) relationship to reinforce their territorial power. People accept this behavior because they understand that the Triads’ reputation for violence represents a potential threat, and [they] are capable of exercising force whenever they want,” T Wing Lo wrote in Triadization of Youth Gangs in Hong Kong.

China Factor comment: The city’s police force made some high-profile raids last year. It busted a major smuggling ring and arrested seven people after seizing 296 kilograms of crystal meth in April worth HK$160 million or US$20.6 million. But there is still growing evidence that Hong Kong is in the grip of a Triad war at street level.