Australia 'Outlaw' tattoos and fingerprints reveal identity of Pong Su drug trafficker
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When drug traffickers Chin Kwang Lee and Kiam Fah Teng were arrested in Lorne with 50 kilograms of heroin brought ashore from North Korean ship, the Pong Su, it didn't take long for police to realise one of the men was not who he claimed to be.
The man the Australian Federal Police had in custody was carrying a passport, but the real Chin Kwang Lee was in Singapore and going about his daily business, which was not drug running.
The first clue to his real identity was the distinctive dragon tattoo across his shoulders and chest. Four Chinese characters inked on his back roughly translated to "outside the law".
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The listening device installed in the Toyota Tarago van that he and Teng were driving between Melbourne and Lorne in the lead up to the Pong Su's arrival suggested that this mystery man was well versed in the drug trade and aware of police investigative techniques.
So police started looking for harder evidence of his real identity. Documents might mislead, but fingerprints do not.
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The fingerprint evidence matched a set taken by Danish police in 2000 after a man called Wee Quay Tan was arrested at Copenhagen airport carrying six kilograms of heroin.
Episode 7 of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald 's podcast “The Last Voyage of the Pong Su”, explores the colourful criminal past of one of the Asian crime syndicate's on-shore party members, the man pretending to be Chin Kwan Lee - how he acquired his experience in the drug trade and the bullet wound in his leg.
Because listeners have got to know this man as Lee, the podcast, for the sake of clarity, continues to refer to him by this name even though his real surname is Tan.
After his arrest in Copenhagen in 2000, Lee was sent to prison in Denmark. But he didn't spend long inside. He escaped along with his Norwegian cellmate in a prison break covered at the time by Copenhagen's newspapers.
Lee made it back to Bangkok and then claimed to have told the four men he said had raised him as an orphaned child that he no longer wanted to be involved in the drug trade. This did not go down well. One of the men that Lee called "uncles" pulled out a gun and shot him through the leg, he said.
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Less than three years after that, Lee would be in Australia overseeing the importation of a record 150kg of heroin into Victoria. The haul was worth well more than $100 million.
Federal police Pong Su case officer, Detective Sergeant Celeste Johnston, said police checked out Lee's story and some of it could be confirmed. He had been arrested and jailed in Denmark. He had escaped and he had been shot in the leg. But Detective Johnston was sceptical the wound came after Lee had attempted to leave the drug game.
"You can't blame him for trying to minimise what he's facing. But I think more likely was that he'd obviously done something that didn't impress the Mr Bigs above him and his uncles. They were showing him who was boss," she said.
It was a different story for the man arrested alongside Lee. Teng was from Malaysia and his passport was genuine. He didn't appear to have a long history in the drug trade. Teng had lived in the United States between 1985 and 1995. There he met his wife and worked hard in the hospitality business.
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He saved $US75,000 ($110,000) and invested it in a rubber and timber business back in Malaysia. The venture did well for a few years but, in around 2000, Teng fell on hard times.
He turned to gambling to escape his financial troubles. But that only made them worse. He owed a loan shark $US20,000 and could not repay it. The shark's monthly interest rate of 15 per cent made it even harder for Teng.
So some associates of the loan shark made Teng a proposition: his debt would be forgiven and he could earn a small but decent sum of cash if he went to Australia to help out on the Pong Su heroin job.
Getting caught by the federal police cost Teng more than just money. He had a six-year-old child back in Malaysia who, ultimately, he would not see for another 15 years at best.
He never saw his elderly parents again. Teng was, according to his lawyer's account in the Victorian Court of Appeal, too ashamed to tell them the truth, so let them believe he was busy working in Australia for all that time.
Teng was paroled last year and deported to Malaysia. The man who posed as Chin Kwang Lee is in Victoria's Fulham prison and is soon to be eligible for parole.
Prison authorities and his lawyers both say Lee has been a model prisoner and a good influence on other inmates with Asian backgrounds.
Passing secret notes: How the Pong Su's radio operator broke ranks .
Jong Dok-hong was in detention at Baxter immigration centre when he passed a series of notes to Australian authorities suggesting how they conduct their investigation.Then, as the crew waited in South Australia's Baxter immigration detention centre in 2004, one of them suddenly snapped. The ship's English-speaking radio operator briefly tried to cooperate with Australian investigators. He passed them secret notes suggesting they keep pursuing the ship's political secretary over his knowledge of the heroin shipment.