Hong Kong's Gurkhas guard the rich

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The Independent Online
HONG KONG'S rich used to lead charmed lives as far as crime was concerned. It was not the well-off who ran the risk of being robbed and beaten up by criminal gangs. However, the tide is turning, and, as it does, former Gurkha soldiers and British bodyguards are being recruited to protect the wealthy from kidnap and robbery.

Yesterday the wife of the Hongkong Bank chairman John Strickland, Hong Kong's most high-profile British banker, was held at knifepoint in her home, tied up and robbed. The Stricklands live in the exclusive Peak area, which was once barred to Chinese residents.

The police believe that the men who broke into the house were illegal immigrants from China, many of whom are recruited by criminal syndicates to commit crimes. They then slip back across the border.

The police insist there has been no upsurge in crime, pointing out that break-ins on the Peak are at the same level as last year. However, as a big criminal trial under way in China has demonstrated, tycoons who have been threatened often choose not to report it. In this case, which involves Cheung Tze-keung, one of Hong Kong's most notorious criminals, thecourt was told that he had been involved in the kidnapping of Victor Li and Walter Kwok, two of the richest men in Hong Kong. The police were not told at the time, and ransoms totalling pounds 135m were paid. Both men are now surrounded by bodyguards.

Hong Kong is one of the most heavily policed places in the world, yet the police force has made little impression on crimes perpetrated by Triad gangs. This may be because the Triads have traditionally preyed on the poor, specialising in protection rackets, drug distribution, prostitution and loan-sharking activities.

Now that organised crime is turning its attention to the influential rich, the government is starting to pay more attention. The complicating factor is that some of the biggest Triad gang leaders and their "respectable" allies have established relations with the same Chinese authorities who claim to be keen on cracking down on crime but have also been heard praising the Triads as "patriots".

Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's Chief Executive, has also been sending out confused signals by expressing concern over the detention of Lim Por- yen, a businessman involved in Taiwan's biggest bribery case, while remaining silent on the fate of other Hong Kong residents encountering problems with authorities overseas.