A key Malaysian opposition party member has demanded an inquiry into remarks made by the country’s home affairs minister that former Macau junket operator and Asian gambling kingpin Paul Phua Wei-seng was assisting the government with matters of national security.
The call for the probe comes on the back of a report in the South China Morning Post last week that documented a letter sent by Malaysian cabinet minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to a senior FBI official vouching for the integrity of Phua, 50, who is currently facing illegal-bookmaking charges in Las Vegas.
“Mr Zahid writing the letter comes across as very shocking not only because the letter attempts to exonerate Paul Phua, who clearly has a chequered past, but also because Mr Zahid claims that Mr Phua has assisted with ‘projects of national security,’” Fahmi Fadzil, communications director of the opposition People’s Justice Party, told the Post yesterday.
“I will be discussing with several Members of Parliament on formally requesting a response from Mr Zahid in the Malaysian Parliament.”
Sarawak native Phua and his son stand accused of running an illicit gambling operation from luxury suites at the Nevada city’s Caesar’s Palace Hotel during the soccer world cup last year.
An online message – contested by Phua’s lawyers – found on his computer during a police raid suggested that bets of the alleged operation reached a “grand total” of HK$2.7 billion, according to court documents.
Phua has denied any wrongdoing.
In the “private and confidential” letter to FBI deputy director Mark Giuliano, Zahid denied allegations made by US federal agents that Phua was a member of the notorious 14K triad.
He added: “Mr Phua has, on numerous occassions [sic], assisted the Government of Malaysia on projects affecting our national security and accordingly we continue to call upon him to assist us from time to time and as such we are eager for him to return to Malaysia.”
The letter, dated December 18, was submitted to the Las Vegas court last week, but was quickly withdrawn by Phua’s lawyers due to an objection by the Malaysian government.
However, the incident sparked concern in the Southeast Asian nation after being picked up by the Post.
“Like many out there, I was surprised to read a news report [on Zahid’s letter] in the South China Morning Post,” said Fahmi.
“I hope Zahid will be able to give an explanation … in order to dislodge the uneasiness among the people about this issue.”
Phua was Macau’s top earning junket operator a decade ago, before becoming a prominent high-stakes poker player.
Weeks prior to his arrest in Las Vegas last summer, he had been detained in Macau in a crackdown on an online betting ring that, according to Macau police, took HK$5 billion in wavers. He was deported from the territory.
The raid remains the largest strike on illegal bookmaking in the gambling hub’s history.
Zahid himself has been the subject of a number of controversies. In 2013, the minister faced public uproar after remarks to a group of town elders seemed to suggest he was friendly with an outlawed crime gang. Zahid claimed he was quoted out of context.