Myanmar’s Karen Border Guard Force runs illegal casinos, cyber-scam network and drug trafficking

KBGF, Dawood Ibrahim, D-Company, Drug cartels, Captagon, Yaba, Karen Border Guard Force

Karen Border Guard Force (KBGF), a notorious militia group allied with the country’s military junta, is at the center of a network of illegal casinos and cyber-scam compounds, which use trafficked people to contact victims online and extort money from them. It is also alleged that top-brasses of the Myanmar army are directly involved in running factories for producing ‘Yaba’ pills – a combination of methamphetamine (a powerful and addictive stimulant) and caffeine. Yaba, which means crazy medicine in Thai, is produced mainly in Myanmar. The drug is popular in Asian communities in the United States, the United Kingdom, EU nations, Middle East and increasingly is available at raves and techno parties.

According to sources, the Myanmar junta is selling Yaba pills to D-Company, which is led by the most-wanted terrorist Dawood Ibrahim. Through the transnational drug trafficking network operated by D-Company, this drug is entering Middle Eastern countries as well as the United States, Britain and EU nations. Drug cartels in Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico, Lebanon, Syria, Italy, Spain, Philippines and few more countries are also involved in this process. Last year, a joint investigation by BBC News Arabic and the investigative journalism network OCCRP found involvement of leading members of the Syrian Armed Forces and President Bashar-al-Assad’s family in this multi-billion-dollar trade of Yaba, which also is known as Captagon.

KBGF also maintains deeper links with Chinese organized crime rackets.

According to a BBC report, in March, 2023, Britain, the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on a list of people – including two cousins of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – suspected of involvement in the Captagon trade. But the BBC’s investigation, deep inside Syria’s narco-state, has found evidence indicating the involvement of other senior Syrian officials in addition to those already included in that list. For his involvement in such illegal acts, Bashar al-Assad is known as the “godfather of Captagon”.

Bashar al-Assad has made Captagon a weapon of choice, through which he has been making billions of dollars every year. By forming a huge network with transnational narco-trafficking rackets, Bashar’s regime has been distributing it all over the Middle East and Western Asia, to the joy of millions who want momentarily to escape the oppressions, poverty, and cruelties although the alarming health impact has become impossible to ignore.

Meanwhile, on May 22, 2024, Justice For Myanmar (JFM) in a press release called for sweeping sanctions against the leaders of Karen Border Guard Force (BGF), which rules a swathe of territory on the frontier with Thailand.

It said:

The Myanmar junta-allied Karen Border Guard Force (BGF), rebranded as the Karen National Army (KNA), has built a transnational network of businesses that enriches the militia’s ruling family and their associates, and causes widespread suffering. 

A Justice For Myanmar investigation into the Karen BGF/KNA corporate structure and regional network provides new details into the militia’s involvement in illegal and abusive businesses with companies and individuals from Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, China and Hong Kong. 

These include cyber scam parks, illegal casinos and illegal online gambling as the junta and its allied Karen BGF/KNA continue to commit international crimes with total impunity. 

Malaysians play a prominent role in the Yatai New City and Dongmei Park projects, which involve a vast range of criminal activities and human rights violations.

Yatai New City is a mega development with illegal casinos, cyber scam and illegal online gambling operations and is a joint venture between the Karen BGF/KNA and Yatai International Holding Group. In 2022, Yatai’s chairperson, She Zhijiang, was arrested in Thailand on an international warrant and is awaiting extradition to China to answer charges of running illegal gambling operations. The two remaining members of Yatai Group in the company’s Myanmar joint venture were Malaysian citizens.

Dongmei Park is a cyber scam park established by former 14K Triad boss Wan Kuok-koi (also known as Broken Tooth) with Malaysian associates that include former deputy minister to the prime minister Dato Dr Mashitah Ibrahim and her husband, Datuk Abdul Shakor bin Abu Bakar, a former diplomat. The couple traveled to Karen State in 2020 with a contingent of prominent Malaysians and Wan Kuok-koi to launch the project. Datuk Abdul Shakor bin Abu Bakar continues to serve as a director and shareholder of Dongmei Group’s US-sanctioned Hong Kong company. 

The investigation also exposes new connections between Thai companies and individuals and Karen BGF/KNA businesses, including a trip to Shwe Kokko by representatives of the Thai state-owned EXIM Bank, Bangkok Bank, Kasikorn Bank and Krungthai Bank via an unofficial Karen BGF border crossing to discuss financial support.

The investigation details the central role San Myint (who goes by the pseudonym Saw Chit Thu) and his children play in Karen BGF/KNA companies. By distributing shares between family members, San Myint’s family controls six Karen BGF/KNA business and has a minority stake in two notorious cyber scam parks: Apollo Park and Yulong Bay Park. In both of these businesses, San Myint’s son, Saw Htoo Eh Moo, a Karen BGF/KNA major, is a director and shareholder.

Justice For Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung said, “The Karen BGF/KNA is responsible for war crimes and transnational crimes, which it commits with total impunity.

“The illegal junta not only protects these criminal activities but also profits from them as it continues to wage a war of terror against the people of Myanmar.

“The Karen BGF/KNA and junta’s international and transnational crimes have continued amid insufficient international action to resolve the crisis in Myanmar and to hold perpetrators accountable”.

Yadanar Maung further said, “In 2025, Malaysia will become chair of ASEAN and needs to step up and stamp out the involvement of its citizens in criminal activities in Myanmar. Malaysia cannot credibly respond to the crisis in Myanmar if its own citizens can do business with war criminals and cause harm to the people of Myanmar and the region with impunity.

“Thailand remains complicit in the commission of international crimes in Myanmar through its business with the illegal junta, and it has failed to take sufficient action against its citizens and companies enabling and profiting from the Karen BGF/KNA.

“Thailand and Malaysia need to change course now to help resolve the Myanmar crisis, rather than allowing their companies and citizens to cause more harm to the people of Myanmar”.

Connections between KBGF and Chinese organized crime rackets

According to a July 2020 report published by the US Institute for International Peace (USIP), a US government-funded think tank, collaborating with Chinese organized crime rackets, KBGF makes its biggest profits from massive casino and scam ventures.

Jason Tower, the Myanmar country director for USIP, told OCCRP that “criminal enclaves under the BGF control account for approximately one quarter of the US$15.3 billion stolen annually by Chinese-origin scam syndicates operating in Myanmar.

“This means that annually, the compounds under the BGF control bring in US$3.8 billion per year, and that the BGF may be receiving in excess of 700 million dollars in stolen funds each year”.

One of the most notorious compounds in the Karen BGF area is Yatai New City, in the town of Shwe Kokko, a purported US$15-billion mega development site that actually serves as a front for cyber-scam centers and illegal casinos.

According to the Bangkok Post, “The Yatai International Holding Group Company Limited termed media reports as “false and fabricated”. But OCCRP in a report quoting Justice For Myanmar (JFM) said, “the Yatai project was spearheaded by She Zhijiang, who also goes by Cambodian name Tang Kriang Kai and is in jail in Thailand awaiting extradition to China for allegedly running illegal online gambling operations in Southeast Asia. He also has links to a compound in Cambodia that is embroiled in human trafficking and cybercrime allegations”.

It further said, thousands of people have reportedly been trafficked to Yatai New City after being lured from their countries with promises of legitimate work. Upon arrival, they were imprisoned, beaten and made to take part in cyber scamming, while some female victims have been forced into sex work.

The Yatai Group’s local subsidiary received a permit from the Myanmar Investment Commission in 2018 for a total investment of US$22.5 million for the “construction, operation and leasing of high-end villas”, according to a corporate document retrieved by JFM before the junta restricted access to such records.


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