'Godfather of Heroin' Dead at 80

Lo Hsing Han first got involved in drugs in the '60s

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 9, 2013 8:47 AM CDT

(Newser) – A man dubbed the "Godfather of Heroin" has died at the age of 80, leaving behind a dark and powerful tale. The New York Times and AP tell it: Lo Hsing Han, who died Saturday in Burma, existed as "a potent symbol of the ability of the country’s drug warlords to operate with impunity." He first got involved in the drug trade in the 1960s, when he was given the right to traffic opium and heroin; in exchange, he was to command a local militia set up by then-dictator Ne Win to fight communists in the country's borderlands with China. He oversaw some 3,000 men who guarded his heroin refineries. From there, drugs went on to Thailand, and then around the globe.

But Lo flipped to the rebels' side in the next decade, and he was arrested in Thailand in 1973 and sentenced to death for treason; that was later commuted to life in prison, and he was freed under a general amnesty in 1980. Thus began the second half of his career, in which he was said to continue his heroin business but, in the words of the US government, function as a "key financial operative of the Burmese regime." He and son Stephen Law founded the conglomerate Asia World, allegedly as a front for their dealings in the drug trade. In 2008 the Treasury Department, which gave him his nickname, put Lo and his son on the sanctions list. An intriguing postscript: The Times notes that the man believed to be Burma's richest person last year said the Lo family was richer than his own. (Click for another fascinating obit.)

  (Khin Maung Win)
  (Khin Maung Win)
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