Lo Hsing Han
Lo Hsing Han

A heroin kingpin who cozied up to politicians and generals to amass enormous wealth and huge influence has died in his native Myanmar.

Lo Hsing Han, 80, was a key player at the heart of the so-called 'golden triangle' - an area encompassing Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam which supplied most of the world's opium from the 1970s.

Like a true Mafioso, Hsing Han later branched into quasi-legitimate activities including highway building in his native country, using contacts high up in its military junta to scoop lucrative contracts - while helping to prop up the ruling elite in return.

Hsing Han died last weekend in Rangoon. The cause of death was either heart attack or a stroke, according to reports.

Top political figures in Myanmar have led a chrous of tributes. Agriculture minister Myint Hlaing said: "Our sorrow is as great as that of the bereaved family and we wish him peace."

Official permission to traffic drugs

Hsing Han's military nous and resources helped to defeat the Communist forces which threatened to sweep to power in the late 1960s.

From the 1970s he began to reap huge benefits, but only after a close brush with death.

Hsing Han was sentenced to death in 1973 for treason, but was eventually granted a pardon in 1980.

Veteran Myanmar watcher Bertil Litner told the Irrawaddy newspaper that, even behind bars, Hsing Han was protected.

"He was sentenced to death, not for drug trafficking, which he had official permission to engage in, but for 'rebellion against the state,' a reference to his brief alliance with the Shan State Army [SSA]," Litner said.

"The death sentence was never carried out, and he was treated as a VIP even when in prison."

News of Hsing Han's death has been greeted with mourning in Myanmar, but he did little good for his country, according to Litner.

"He traded in opium and other drugs and built a business empire on black money," he said.

As recently as 2008, Hsing Han was targeted by the United States for drugs crimes. The US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control said: "Lo Hsing Han, known as the 'Godfather of Heroin,' has been one of the world's key heroin traffickers dating back to the early 1970s."

A quasi-legitimate businesses he founded in 1992 called Asia World continues trading under the leadership of son Steven Law - a long-term business partner.