|Cheung Tze-keung (張子強)|
|Born||7 April 1955
Yunan County, Guangdong, China
|Died||16 December 1998 (aged 43)
|Other names||Big Spender (大富豪)|
|Known for||Kidnapping Walter Kwok and Victor Li|
Cheung Tze-keung (7 April 1955 – 16 December 1998) was a notorious Hong Kong gangster also known as the "Big Spender" (Chinese: 大富豪; pinyin: dà fùháo; Jyutping: daai6 fu3 hou4). He was a kidnapper, robber, arms smuggler and was wanted for murder. He was best known for having masterminded the abduction of Walter Kwok and Victor Li, son of Li Ka Shing.
He was sentenced to death by a court in Guangzhou and was executed by firing squad on 16 December 1998, aged 43.
Cheung was born in Guangxi province, and moved to Hong Kong with his family at the age of four.
He acquired the nickname "Big Spender" for his love of lavish living. Cheung created a self-image for himself of a "likeable rogue with a heart of gold", and gave his friends and strangers gifts funded from a crime spree that brought in at least $2 billion.
He was said to be a charming man with a taste for fine food and liquor. He reportedly gave away tens of thousands dollars to a young street painter when in Bangkok. Just before he was arrested, he spent a month in a luxury hotel in Shenzhen during which he showered hotel staff with tips. Even in jail, he reportedly asked wardens for bird's nest soup.
|“||I haven't the patience to work for a living. In this world, money is the most important thing||”|
Cheung partnered with Yip Kai-foon in a series of armed robberies. In 1990, he raided the Airport where he hauled a HK$30 million consignment of Rolex wristwatches. Cheung was arrested in September 1991 and jailed for 18 years for robbing a security van at Kai Tak Airport, netting HK$167 million. However, he was acquitted and released after appeal in June 1995 when the judge ruled there was no case against Cheung as the evidence was filled with too many inconsistencies. His associate Yip, however, was sentenced to 41 years in jail.
In May 1996, he kidnapped Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, son of Li Ka Shing, and 29 Sept 1997 kidnapped Walter Kwok, chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties. He reportedly reaped HK$1.38 billion in ransom money from Li Ka-shing, and HK$600 million for Walter Kwok. Cheung admitted he followed Li Ka-shing, then held him hostage in the Li's own house for three days until the ransom was paid. It was believed at the time that these ransoms would merit an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records.
Cheung fled to China in January 1998 after failing to kidnap Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan, in retaliation for the jailing of his associate, Yip Kai-foon. Acting on a tip-off, the police discovered 818 kg of explosives in Sheung Shui in January 1998 which they attributed to a plan by Cheung to bomb government buildings. Cheung allegedly acquired 960 kg of explosives in 1997 for $200,000 from a man in Macau, the stock was transported to Hong Kong and buried in a deserted container parking area.
Cheung had already fled to Guangdong province in January 1998 under an assumed name, having allegedly bribed the police there. However, Cheung was arrested in August 1998, and his gang of 35 were rounded up by mainland police. Among his gang members were 17 Hong Kong residents and 14 mainlanders They were tried in connection with a number of crimes including the kidnapping of two SAR tycoons, who remained unnamed in the trial, (some reports suggested one victim was Victor Li).
The trial was held in Guangzhou even though the events occurred in Hong Kong. Cheung's lawyer, and other constitutional experts, lobbied the government for the trial to be transferred to Hong Kong, but they were rejected.
The Guangzhou Municipal People's Prosecutor formally charged Cheung and his 35 followers with a series of charges relating to "cross-boundary crime including illegal possession, transporting and smuggling explosives and firearms, robbery and kidnapping". The charges, which were denied by Cheung, included the abduction in 1993 for a four million yuan ransom of a Fujian merchant who had only come forward after Cheung's arrest. The trial began on 8 October 1998. It was reported that Cheung made a full confession on the first day of the trial.
On 16 December 1998, Cheung was convicted and subsequently executed in Guangzhou by a firing squad.
The trial of a Hong Kong resident in Mainland China engendered a crisis of faith in the judicial independence of Hong Kong, explicit in the Hong Kong Basic Law that had been implemented after the United Kingdom transferred sovereignty to the People's Republic of China. Grave concerns were expressed by the Bar Association that the Mainland had no jurisdiction over crimes committed in the territory by Hong Kong residents as a matter of Mainland law; the Hong Kong public were concerned that if they commit a crime in Hong Kong, they might have to stand trial in the mainland if arrested there. However, the Chinese Government argued that though the crimes were carried out in Hong Kong, it had been planned in China, so the PRC was entitled to exercise jurisdiction over the case. Under the Chinese Criminal Code, a Chinese national can be tried by a mainland court for crimes committed outside China if the offence warrants imprisonment of three years or more. Officials believed that although a "meagre part" of Cheung's case involved the mainland, it was right he be tried there.
Director of Public Prosecutions Grenville Cross, said in a letter that the mainland judiciary could not return Hong Kong residents to the SAR before they had been tried for crimes allegedly committed on the mainland. Cheung's lawyer suggested there probably would have been insufficient evidence to convict his client in Hong Kong without victims' statements.
The failure of the victims to report the case to the Hong Kong Police had left them bereft of evidence to request the repatriation of Cheung. Secretary for Security Regina Ip regretted that the tycoons had reported the abductions to the PRC and not to the Hong Kong authorities. In addition, she mentioned there was no formal cross-border agreement on the transfer of offenders, but said that it would not be unprecedented to do so. Legal experts suggested that Hong Kong courts would not be able to convict in the absence of witness or victims' testimonies or other evidence, even with a full confession, as confessions can be withdrawn. There were some who maintained that the Li and Kwok families could get their revenge on Cheung since a trial in the mainland could guarantee the death penalty, whereas capital punishment is not in force in Hong Kong.
Fictionalized accounts of Cheung Chi Keung's kidnapping of the wealthy have been made into movies:
- Operation Billionaires (English title) starring Simon Yam.
- Big Spender (English title) starring Ray Lui Leung-Wai.
- Stella Lee, "Police plan to seize assets of 'Big Spender", The Standard, 19 August 1998
- Erick Ko and AFP, "Tough guy, likeable rogue", The Standard, 13 November 1998
- Quick trial and quick execution for Cheung (张子强速审速枪决 大陆警方助香港破奇案), Sing Tao Daily, 17 June 2007 (Chinese)
- Ng Kang-chung, "Big Spender could make record book", The Standard, 8 November 1998
- Agence France-Presse, "Dates set for trial of 'Big Boss'", The Standard, 7 October 1998
- Staff reporters, "Anson hits at silent victims of kidnappers", The Standard, 28 October 1998
- "Jackie Sam, "Cheung must taste mainland justice", The Standard, 6 November 1998
- Malene Jensen, "Kidnap victims did not report cases, says Security chief", The Standard, 26 October 1998