Bandit King

Dear J-

This week I’ve been getting more work done, which means less editing on Wikipedia (and this is definitely good for my morale at work: getting stuff done! working it out! writing like a fiend!) but one item jumped out at me briefly, the case of the criminal Big Spender in Hong Kong, who used cross-border jurisdiction to good advantage (he’d go into Guangzhong to let the heat die down) and fancied himself a sort of Robin Hood, kidnapping tycoons and demanding fabulous ransoms (two ransoms being HK$1.38b and HK$600m — that’s nearly US$300m) for their release. It sounds like the stuff of movies and indeed, they ended up making two films inspired by those true events.

His end was quick, though: busted for explosives charges in mainland China in August 1998, on trial in October, convicted in November, executed in December, like rapidly shuffling cards. There are rumors that the father of one of the kidnap victims spoke with Premier Jiang Zemin shortly before the arrest, when he’d been operating essentially with impunity for years before. I suppose you could see a renewed faith in the criminal justice system: they always get their man, right? On the other hand, I don’t know all the facts, though reportedly the kidnap victims were not mistreated, as the nickname Big Spender indicates, he was always on the make for the next score, like some shark swimming through an ocean of money, restlessly moving on. It’s possible his usual caution was thrown to the wind that year, with no new income to keep him afloat.

I suppose I’m also fascinated with his age: roughly the same as me, executing his kidnappings at 41 and 42. I’m sure I’m under the influence of too many gun-fu movies and the notion of honorable criminals to realize there’s no such thing as a victimless crime, but the case has larger legal ramifications given the fact the crimes were committed in Hong Kong, yet he was arrested in the mainland (this, after the 1997 handover, though), tried, and executed (as HK doesn’t have the death penalty, this was a stern test of the notion of one country, two systems), it gives some insight as to the fate of Taiwan should reunification happen. There is a larger story to everything, even the colorfully entertaining one of the tycoon kidnapper.



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