Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mob funeral captivates Taiwan

Mobster's funeral draws the great and good

AOL News, April 27, 2010

TAIPEI, Taiwan (April 27) -- How big is organized crime in Taiwan? Very big indeed, judging by the attendance at this week's funeral of a top mob boss, which drew prominent politicians, Buddhist monks, TV variety show celebrities and foreign dignitaries.

Gangster Lee Chao-hsiung died last month of liver cancer at the age of 73. The 108-car funeral procession conveying his body to a crematorium Monday included a Rolls-Royce hearse, Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs. Fetching female models carried large signs announcing each delegation in what amounted to the closing ceremony for an Olympian of Asian organized crime.

It was believed to be the island's biggest ever gangster funeral, with more than 20,000 attending and lines of spectators stretching for more than a mile.

"He was the big boss, and it's natural that many gang members want to bid a last farewell to him," said an assistant to a Taiwan legislator quoted by Agence France-Presse.

What was perhaps more remarkable were the other guests. They included the island nation's legislative speaker, who doubled as head of the funeral committee; a prominent mayor; and more than 2,000 chanting Buddhist monks and nuns.

Why all the reverence? Though details of Lee's past were scant, he was known as an arbiter of underworld disputes. He helped negotiate the safe release of several kidnapped politicians, according to AFP.

And then there's the money. He donated just under $2 million to four of the island's main Buddhist groups and to his native city of Taichung, according to the the Apple Daily. Donations at his funeral yielded another $1.6 million for charity, even after deducting $1.2 million to cover the funeral costs. It's not clear to whom or what that money will go, the Apple Daily said.

"Everyone pushed me to lead the funeral committee," Taiwan's legislative speaker told Taiwanese reporters. "I think he has a benevolent heart," said Taichung's mayor of the deceased wise guy.

Gangsters play an ambiguous role in Taiwan society, with many engaging in both criminal activity -- "the black path" in Chinese parlance -- and legitimate business ventures, or "the white path." They are often enlisted to arbitrate business disputes.

"In Taiwan it's not a big deal to be associated with an underworld figure," said Chin Ko-lin, an expert on Asian organized crime at Rutgers University. "In fact, a lot of people are even proud of it."

Gangs have long had close ties with big businesses and politicians, and moved into the construction and entertainment industries in the 1990s. Chin said some Taiwan politicians enlists gangsters' help at election time and attend funerals and other functions to tighten bonds.

"They want the support of the Taiwan underworld," said Chin. "It shows that the whole issue of 'black-gold' [corrupt] politics is going to continue to exist for a long time in Taiwan."

Monday's funeral drew a star-studded cast from Taiwan's underworld, according to the Apple Daily. They included a top figure from the Bamboo Union, Taiwan's largest gang, leading a 500-mobster delegation; the head of the Heavenly Way Alliance with another 500 wise guys; and Four Seas head Chang "Brother-man" Jian-ying, with 300 gangbangers.

Gangsters from Japan's feared yakuza and Hong Kong and Macau triads also made a showing.

Large-scale mob funerals are a regular occurrence in Taiwan and are generally tolerated by police. A 2007 funeral put to rest former Bamboo Union leader Chen Chi-li, who had spent his latter years in a luxury home in Cambodia after serving time in Taiwan for his role in the murder in California of a Taiwanese journalist. One of Taiwan's top pop stars attended that large service.

But Rutgers University's Chin said that Taiwan cops were unhappy with an ostentatious funeral of a top Four Seas gang boss, and since then have worked out funeral guidelines with gangsters.

As a result, youths under 18 were not allowed to attend Monday's funeral. The police detained 148 such kids and called their parents to come get them, according to the Apple Daily.

Original site

No comments: