Khamla Wong, aka Khamla Siharaj, is wanted in Canada and the U.S., but still allegedly involved in international drug smuggling.
Two B.C. men now in prisons in China and Thailand on serious drug charges were allegedly working for an international fugitive wanted in both Canada and the U.S., Postmedia has learned.
Khamla Wong, a United Nations gang associate and former Abbotsford resident, has been heading the international drug operation for years, according to police in B.C. and California.
And while he has managed to avoid arrest despite facing charges on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, Robert Schellenberg and Blair Stephens have not been as lucky.
Schellenberg, also a former Abbotsford man, was sentenced to death in China in January after he appealed a 15-year jail term handed to him last fall.
Critics charged the death penalty was being used to retaliate against Canada after the Vancouver arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who the U.S. wants extradited on fraud-related charges.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed “extreme concern” about Schellenberg’s harsh sentence, and Canada has asked for clemency.
Schellenberg told the court at his January retrial that Wong was in fact the man behind the international drug syndicate in which he became ensnared after travelling to China as a tourist.
Chinese authorities alleged the crime group planned to send hundreds of kilos of methamphetamine to Australia, hidden within plastic pellets concealed in tires.
Wong was arrested in Thailand in 2016 on drug-trafficking charges. He was mysteriously released some time later without explanation.
Postmedia has learned that Wong is also alleged to be behind the Thai-based drug-smuggling operation that led to the arrest in January of Stephens, a former Okanagan man well-known to police in B.C.
A joint Thai-Australia task force intercepted suspicious packages mailed to Australia that contained heroin-laden shock absorbers. Police tracked the package back to Stephens, who is also facing a potentially lengthy sentence if convicted.
In B.C., Wong faces one count of conspiracy to traffic 121 kilograms of cocaine, another count of conspiracy to import 97 kilograms of cocaine, and one count of possession of a firearm.
He was charged in 2012 after a lengthy investigation by the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit in B.C.
CFSEU Staff Sgt. Lindsey Houghton said this week that it’s not surprising that Wong has been linked to international drug-smuggling operations in both China and Thailand.
Houghton said several gangs that originated in B.C., such as the UN, have expanded “to become these global drug-trafficking brokers and kingpins almost, living off the grid in many cases like Khamla’s.”
He said the kingpins involved are “more than happy to let these underlings several layers removed take the fall for them.”
“It’s unfortunate that a guy who is on the run from North American authorities with Interpol warrants out for him, who at one time in the last few years was in custody of a police agency, continues to evade us and multiple jurisdictions who want to try him,” Houghton said.
Retired Abbotsford police detective Andrew Wooding worked several major investigations targeting the UN gang.
“During the investigations in the mid-2000s that I was involved with … Khamla Wong of Abbotsford continued to come up as a major player in the movement of controlled substances and narcotics internationally,” Wooding said this week. “Some of that included moving precursor drugs from source countries into Mexico and trading them for cocaine.”
He said Wong specialized in transporting major drug shipments around the world, working in concert with other organized crime groups.
Former UN gang members who testified at two recent B.C. gang trials described Wong as a “respected elder” closely aligned with, but not a member of, their gang.
One witness testified that Wong arranged for Mexican cartel contacts to kill UN gangster Jesse Adkins, a Metro Vancouver man implicated in the 2009 murder of Red Scorpion Kevin LeClair.
While Adkins was hiding out in Mexico after LeClair’s slaying, others in the gang were worried he was becoming a liability because he wanted to return to Canada, said the witness, whose name is shielded by a publication ban.
Adkins’ body was never found.
Wong was indicted in Los Angeles in 2010 with several other B.C. men as part of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation of a major international smuggling ring.
The 53-page indictment alleges Wong, who changed his name from Khamla Siharaj, was one of the purchasers of bulk cocaine, which would be delivered to him in Canada from California.
The DEA had an informant who arranged to distribute encrypted BlackBerry devices to Wong and other members of the drug gang in both Canada and the U.S.
The BlackBerrys used a server inside a DEA office, allowing agents to read all the messages about drug deliveries and money drop-offs. U.S. agents sent information to CFSEU, which began its own investigation.
The U.S. indictment also says Wong sent messages throughout late 2008 and early 2009 about purchasing dozens of kilograms of cocaine. At one point he asked for a better per-kilo price so he “could sell a higher volume of cocaine in Canada.”
The coordinated police effort led to 218 kilograms of cocaine being seized in two large shipments smuggled through the Pacific border crossing inside commercial trucks in December 2008. Several of Wong’s Canadian co-accused have been convicted and sentenced in B.C. Supreme Court to jail terms ranging from three to 13 years.
Houghton, of the CFSEU, says at 50, the Laos-born Wong “is not a young guy and he continues to this day to influence large-scale drug trafficking internationally by the admission of people like Schellenberg.”
“He has been in southeast Asia for a very, very long time. His connections undoubtedly run very deep,” Houghton said.