Cheung Tze-keung

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Cheung Tze-keung
Native name
Born(1955-04-07)7 April 1955
Yunan County, Guangdong, China[citation needed]
Died5 December 1998(1998-12-05) (aged 43)
Guangzhou, China
Other namesBig Spender (大富豪)
Known forKidnapping Walter Kwok and Victor Li
Cheung Tze-keung
Traditional Chinese張子強
Simplified Chinese张子强

Cheung Tze-keung ((1955-04-07)7 April 1955 – (1998-12-05)5 December 1998) was a notorious Chinese gangster also known as "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.[1] 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 shooting on 5 December 1998(1998-12-05) (aged 43).[2]


Cheung was born in the Guangdong 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 HK$2 billion.[3]

He was said to be a charming man with a taste for fine food and liquor. He reportedly gave away tens of thousands of 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.[3]

Criminal life[edit]

Cheung partnered with Yip Kai-foon in a series of armed robberies.[4] On 22 February 1990, he raided Kai Tak Airport where he hauled a HK$30 million consignment of Rolex wristwatches.[5][6] On 12 July 1991, Cheung returned to Kai Tak, where he robbed a security van, netting HK$167 million,[7] Cheung was arrested in September 1991 and jailed for 18 years for the security van heist.[8] 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[3] and the security guard who initially identified him recanted his testimony.[9] His associate Yip, however, was sentenced to 41 years in jail.[3]


On 23 May 1996, he kidnapped Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, son of Li Ka Shing,[11] and on 29 September 1997, he kidnapped Walter Kwok, chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties.[1] He reportedly reaped HK$1.38 billion in ransom money from Li Ka-shing,[12] and HK$600 million for Walter Kwok.[3] 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.[3] It was believed at the time that these ransoms would merit an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records.[13][2]

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, a part of Hong Kong, in January 1998 which they attributed to a plan by Cheung to bomb government buildings.[3] 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.[14]

Cheung had already fled to Guangdong province in January 1998 under an assumed name, having bribed the police there.[11] He was arrested in August 1998, and his gang of 35 were rounded up by mainland police.[5][15] Among his gang members were 17 Hong Kong residents and 14 mainlanders.[3]

It was reported at the time of his capture that Cheung planned to kidnap Macau gambling magnate, Stanley Ho.[4] Cheung is known to have lost at least $200 million in Ho's Macau casinos.[3]

Criminal trial[edit]

Cheung and his gang were tried in connection with a number of crimes including the kidnapping of two Hong Kong 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.[16][17]

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".[14] 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.[14] It was reported that Cheung made a full confession on the first day of the trial.[18]

On 12 November 1998, Cheung was convicted and sentenced to death.[17][19] He was executed by shooting on 5 December 1998 in Guangzhou.[2][20]

Legal controversy[edit]

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 in 1997. 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.[16] However, the Chinese Government argued that though the crimes were carried out in Hong Kong, they 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.[18] Officials believed that although a "meagre part" of Cheung's case involved the mainland, it was right he be tried there.[16]

Grenville Cross, Director of Public Prosecutions of Hong Kong, said in a letter that the mainland judiciary could not return Hong Kong residents to Hong Kong before they had been tried for crimes allegedly committed on the mainland.[16] Cheung's lawyer suggested there probably would have been insufficient evidence to convict his client in Hong Kong without victims' statements.[16]

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. Hong Kong Secretary for Security Regina Ip regretted that the tycoons had reported the abductions to the PRC and not to the Hong Kong authorities. She said there was no formal cross-border agreement on the transfer of offenders, but said that it would not be unprecedented to do so.[clarification needed][21] 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.[18] There were[when?] some[who?] 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 was not in force in Hong Kong.

Cultural influences[edit]

Fictionalized accounts of Cheung Chi Keung's kidnapping of the wealthy have been made into movies:

Chasing the dragon 2(追龙2之贼王)2019 Big spender starred by Tony Leung Ka Fai



  1. ^ a b Lee, Stella (19 August 1998). "Police plan to seize assets of 'Big Spender". The Standard. Hong Kong. Archived from the original on 17 February 2009. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Lo, Clifford (11 March 2011). "How Big Spender abducted two of HK's tycoons". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Ko, Erick (13 November 1998). "Tough guy, likeable rogue". The Standard. AFP. Archived from the original on 8 February 2009. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  4. ^ a b Law, Niki (28 May 2006). "Hong Kong's 'king of thieves'". South China Morning Post. Hong Kong. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  5. ^ a b "张子强速审速枪决 大陆警方助香港破奇案)" [Quick trial and quick execution for Cheung]. Sing Tao Daily. 17 June 2007. Archived from the original on 19 June 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2014.‹See Tfd›(in Chinese)
  6. ^ Wong, Kam C. (2012). One Country Two Systems: Cross-Border Crime between Hong Kong and China. Edison, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. p. 21. ISBN 978-1412846745. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  7. ^ Wong (2012), pp.21 & 26
  8. ^ Wong (2012), pp.21-22
  9. ^ Wong (2012), p.22
  10. ^ "IN HIS OWN WORDS: Cheung Tze-Keung". South China Morning Post. 13 November 1998. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  11. ^ a b Cheung, Agnes Wai-sum (14 August 1998). "Exit Big Spender: The spectacular rise and fall of Hong Kong's most notorious gangster". Asiaweek magazine. Archived from the original on 10 December 2014. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  12. ^ "What tycoon told gangster who abducted son". The Standard. 29 November 2013. Archived from the original on 10 December 2014. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  13. ^ Ng,Kang-chung (8 November 1998). "Big Spender could make record book". The Standard. Archived from the original on 17 February 2009. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  14. ^ a b c "Dates set for trial of 'Big Boss'". The Standard. Agence France-Presse. 7 October 1998. Archived from the original on 17 February 2009. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  15. ^ Faison, Seth (3 August 1998). "End of Line for Mob's Shuttle Over the Hong Kong Border". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  16. ^ a b c d e "Anson hits at silent victims of kidnappers". The Standard. 28 October 1998. Archived from the original on 17 February 2009. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  17. ^ a b Landler, Mark (13 November 1998). "Trial Raises Fear on Hong Kong Autonomy". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  18. ^ a b c Sam, Jackie (6 November 1998). "Cheung must taste mainland justice". The Standard. Archived from the original on 17 February 2009. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  19. ^ Wong (2012), p.26
  20. ^ Tempest, Rone (5 December 1998). "Execution in China Raises Concerns in Hong Kong". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  21. ^ Jensen, Malene (26 October 1998). "Kidnap victims did not report cases, says Security chief". The Standard. Archived from the original on 17 February 2009. Retrieved 10 December 2014.