PETALING JAYA, April 9 — Fugitive businessman Datuk Seri Nicky Liow Soon Hee — a mastermind of organised crime has been grabbing headlines nationwide recently but his large-scale money laundering operations and commercial crime cases started seven years ago.

Liow, a self-proclaimed philanthropist and the man behind Winner Dynasty Group Sdn Bhd — an 'investment management company' that was in fact involved in various types of scams is currently on the run after police crushed his billion ringgit scam network in a massive operation with the arrest of 68 suspects.

Last week, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador revealed that 34 officers and personnel from various enforcement agencies were suspected of having ties and protecting the activities of the organised crime syndicate, with Liow himself on the run.

This morning, 16 members of a gang named after him will be charged with organised crime in the Petaling Jaya Sessions Court.

Here are things that we know about Liow based on what investigations have revealed so far:

Who is Datuk Seri Nicky Liow?

Malaysians first heard his name when Liow made headlines for assaulting three People’s Volunteer Corps (Rela) members back in 2017. The incident took place at Kau Ong Yah Temple in Ampang when the Rela members had asked him to move his Toyota Vellfire as it was obstructing traffic.

Liow not only refused to do but also physically assaulted the trio. The injured men lodged a police report and Liow was subsequently arrested when he showed up at the Ampang Jaya police headquarters and was remanded for four days.

Later on, it was alleged that he had offered each of the three Rela members RM10,000 each to drop the case but they had refused the offer.

When the news broke out, people started questioning what the then 27-year-old had done to receive the “Datuk Seri” title from the state of Pahang at that young an age.

Videos on social media showed that Liow's company was “involved” in many products and services such as education, property, health, tourism, jewelry and even cryptocurrency.

Based on the videos, Liow seems to have won several awards, including the BrandLaureate awards for his businesses and claims to be a Bitcoin billionaire.

China Press last week reported that he had converted to Islam last year because he wanted to marry his fiancé, who is of Hui descent.

Photos published by him in August 2020 showed that he went to the Muslim Welfare Organisation of Malaysia (Perkim) office to allegedly change his faith.

In Malaysia, legal conversions for marriage can only be done at the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi). Perkim is a non-governmental organisation that assists non-Muslims with the conversion.

Police had in the past revealed that he has 12 prior cases for criminal intimidation, causing hurt and drug-related offences.

According to police, Liow’s net worth amounted to some RM1 billion in company assets and illegal proceeds.

His dubious charity work

Liow is no stranger in making well-publicised donations to social and religious bodies and government agencies.

Among the most notable ones is when his company donated a total of 11 million face masks to media practitioners, front liners and state governments at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He was pictured with Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who received the masks.

Through his charity foundations known as Pertubuhan Integriti Nicky Liow Malaysia and Yayasan Winner Emperor Sedunia, he donated 76,920 masks and medical supplies to Covid-19 infected areas in China.

Police believe his social services were aimed at creating a positive image of him while some claimed that he made donations and helped people as he had a poor beginning in his life.

There are plenty of pictures and videos of Liow making donations and visiting poor people and handing out cash.

Ops Pelican 3.0

In a targeted crackdown on Liow’s organised crime syndicate, a total of 70 police raids — conducted by a task force comprising some 220 police personnel took place nationwide between March 20 and March 28 which resulted in the arrest of 68 individuals.

The special operation against Liow’s syndicate was launched following a tip-off obtained mid-January this year by the Johor Commercial Crime Investigations Department after a previous operation involving Macau Scam investigations.

The estimated sum of money seized during the operations amounted to some RM773,145 while  35 cars worth RM8.86 million were impounded under provisions of the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001.

Police also managed to freeze 41 bank accounts believed to be used to channel funds for illicit purposes.

Police also revealed that a total of 34 individuals from various law enforcement and government agencies were in cahoots with Liow.

The syndicate would target investors from China by promising them huge returns through investments in cryptocurrency, real estate and the foreign exchange market.

According to media reports, the Macau scam ringleader's downfall came with the investigation of Johor police into a bogus sale of a phone.

Apparently, the money from the "sale" of the phone went to a "mule account" owned by Liow's company, which led to a full-blown investigation.

The Macau Scam syndicate allegedly ran its scam from 48 apartment units in Puchong. 118 people, including Liow's two brothers, were arrested between 20 and 28 March in a sting operation called Pelican 3.0.

Liow's connection to Macau mafia

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador said intelligence gathering revealed that Liow has alleged ties with transnational organised crime leader known as Wan Kouk-koi @ Broken Tooth.

Wan, also widely known as “Broken Tooth Koi”, rose to infamy amid a surge of gang violence in the gambling enclave of Macau in the late 1990s.

He was subsequently arrested — at the time he was the head of Macau branch of the Hong Kong-based 14K Triad organised-crime group and founder of the World Hongmen History and Culture Association.

Wan spent 14 years in prison for triad membership and money laundering, among other crimes before he was released in December 2012 and is rumoured to be based in Cambodia presently and has been reportedly involved in illicit gambling and drug activities.

In December last year, the United States Treasury Department blacklisted and imposed sanctions on Wan’s World Hongmen History and Culture Association for anti-corruption purposes, which officials said was an effort by the 14K Triad to legitimise itself.

Abdul Hamid said investigators also discovered that Wan had appointed Liow as vice president of the World Hongmen History and Culture Association in January 2019.

Further investigations revealed that multiple Macau scam transactions were all traced back to shell companies linked to the aforementioned association.

Liow is also an acquaintance of Chinese businessman Zhang Jian, who is believed to be his mentor.

According to various news reports Zhang used to run a multi-level marketing (MLM) company  in Klang Valley — he is wanted by several Asian countries on suspicion of running get-rich-quick schemes. He was arrested in Indonesia and sent back to China in 2017. Liow allegedly got his first break to head a major Macau scam founded by Zhang.

Zhang is currently serving time in China and is understood that Liow regularly sent money to support his mentor's family.

Escape with cash

Police strongly believe Liow is still in the country and a manhunt is underway with all border checkpoints in the country placed under high-alert.

Once a name is on the wanted list, all border checkpoints, jetties, ports and airports would be automatically notified.

While authorities have frozen his bank accounts and seized his assets, he is believed to have escaped with plenty of cash in hand.

Johor police chief Comm Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay had said that Liow made a run for it with eight bags of cash.

Liow was last seen on March 20 at Setiawalk in Puchong, where the syndicate ran its operations.