A Funeral for ‘the Godfather of Heroin’

By Lawi Weng 17 July 2013

RANGOON—Myint Aung is building a tombstone for Lo Hsing Han, a notorious Burmese crony—dubbed the “godfather of heroin” by the US government—who died earlier this month after decades as a global drug trafficker.

On the day of the funeral on Wednesday, at about 2 pm, Myint Aung and other laborers at a cemetery in Rangoon are busy at work on the tombstone after the ethnic Kokang drug kingpin has been laid to rest in his grave.

“The only thing I knew about him was that he was a rich man from Asia World,” Myint Aung says, referring to a conglomerate founded by Lo Hsing Han’s son, allegedly as a front for their drug trade business. The conglomerate gave 3,000 kyats (US$3) to the dozen or so workers hired to prepare the tombstone, Myint Aung adds.

Lo Hsing Han died of heart failure at his home in Rangoon on July 6, and thousands of people attended his traditional Chinese funeral on Wednesday.

Before driving to the cemetery, dozens of relatives in white clothes gathered at his home, where they walked around his coffin to pray and pay their last respects.

Friends of the family were allowed inside the large Rangoon home but reporters were barred, taking photos when they could along the road and at the cemetery.

One video reporter was grabbed by security when he attempted to film inside the house, while police officers were deployed along the street.

Lo Hsing Han’s wife, Zhang Pengshin, was absent at the funeral, reportedly due to an illness. Many of the drug king’s children refused to speak with reporters.

Lo Hsing Han was born on Sept. 25, 1935 in Kokang region of Burma’s Shan State, an area populated by a Han Chinese ethnic group known as the Kokang.

He became the leader of Kokang home-guard militia in 1962, according to the Shan Herald Agency for News, and later fought against the Communist Party of Burma (CPB). He and his family had a close relationship with Burma’s former military junta.

Hao Xao Chan, a lawmaker from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), attended the funeral.

“He was my teacher,” said the Upper House lawmaker. “I was very sad for his death. I took one day off from Parliament to come here because I wanted to show my condolences.”

A 50-year-old man from Lashio Township, Shan State, said, “About 300 members of our cultural organization from Lashio came here. We wanted the family to know we’re mourning.”

A woman from China’s Yunnan Province also attended. “He had a good mind and was rich, but he was No. 4 on the world’s ‘most wanted’ list,” she said.

Lo Hsing Han amassed a fortune in the early 1970s during the Burmese military regime as a leading figure in Burma’s notoriously rampant drug trade. His narcotics empire included lucrative opium production in Kokang.

He was arrested by Thai authorities and extradited to Burma after crossing into northern Thailand in 1973, during a period in which he went underground and teamed up with the Shan State Army, an ethnic Shan rebel group. He was later freed, in 1980, in a general amnesty.

Following his release, Lo Hsing Han returned to Lashio, where he built up a new militia force under a government-backed paramilitary force.

He and his son Steven Law were put on the US sanctions lists in February 2008, along with their companies Asia World, Asia World Port Management, Asia World Industries Ltd and Asia World Light Ltd.

For decades, Lo Hsing Han was considered one of the world’s biggest traffickers of heroin and was slapped with financial sanctions for allegedly helping prop up Burma’s brutal former military junta through illegal business dealings.

He is survived by a wife, four sons, four daughters and 16 grandchildren.