'Godfather of heroin' dies in Burma

Lo Hsing Han, one of the region's most powerful drug kingpins, was put on US's financial sanctions list in 2008

Lo Hsing Han – dubbed 'the godfather of heroin' by the US – at a ceremony in the town of Mongla in north-east Burma in 1999. Photograph: Reuters
Associated Press in Rangoon
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 7 July 2013

A former drug kingpin and business tycoon once dubbed the "godfather of heroin" by the US government has died in his home in Burma's main city, a source close to the family said on Sunday.

Lo Hsing Han died on Saturday in Rangoon, the source said, citing a relative of the former drug kingpin. Lo Hsing Han was believed to be in his mid-70s. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Lo Hsing Han's involvement in the drug trade began more than four decades ago.

In exchange for heading a local militia set up by then-dictator Ne Win in the 1960s to help fight local communists in the region of Kokang, Lo Hsing Han was given permission to engage in the trafficking of opium and heroin, said Bertil Lintner, author of The Golden Triangle Opium Trade: an Overview.

With one of the best-armed militias in Burma, he quickly became one of the region's most powerful drug kingpins.

Thai police arrested Lo Hsing Han in northern Thailand in 1973. He was handed over to the Burmese government and sentenced to death – commuted later to life in prison – for treason.

He was released in 1980 as part of a general amnesty, Lintner said.

In 1992, Lo Hsing Han and his son Stephen Law founded the conglomerate Asia World, allegedly as a front for their ongoing dealings in the drug trade, the author said.

They quickly became two of Burma's biggest business tycoons, helping prop up the military junta, winning contracts to run ports, build highways and oversee airports.

The US department of treasury, dubbing Lo Hsing Han the "godfather of heroin," put him on the financial sanctions list in 2008.

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