The U.S. has designated the Zhao Wei network, which operates throughout southeast Asia, as a transnational criminal organization, the Treasury Department announced Tuesday.
The Laos-based network facilitates much of its criminal activity through a Laotian casino, which the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) targeted with its latest designations.
"The Zhao Wei crime network engages in an array of horrendous illicit activities, including human trafficking and child prostitution, drug trafficking, and wildlife trafficking," said Sigal Mandelker, under secretary of treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence. "We are targeting key figures in this transnational criminal organization, which stretches from the Kings Romans Casino in Laos throughout Southeast Asia."
The network also engages in money laundering and bribery in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, an area known for opium production.
"OFAC is designating the Zhao Wei network as part of a broader strategy to disrupt the financial infrastructure of transnational criminal organizations that pose a threat to the United States and our allies," Mandelker added.
The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on four individuals and three entities across Laos, Thailand, and Hong Kong for involvement with the Zhao Wei network. The U.S. assets of all entities designated by the OFAC are now frozen, and Americans are forbidden from dealing with them.
Treasury officials said the network operates largely through the Kings Romans Casino to store and distribute heroin, methamphetamine, and other narcotics for illicit networks, in addition to human and wildlife trafficking and child prostitution.
One of the sanctioned individuals is Zhao Wei, a Chinese national and co-owner or director of three companies linked to the Kings Roman Casino. The OFAC also sanctioned another Chinese national, a Thai national, and an Australian national, all of whom have high-level connections to the casino.
The Treasury Department noted that Tuesday's designation was conducted in close coordination with the Drug Enforcement Administration.