Taiwan rocked to the news this week that storied gangster Chang An-le, the notorious “White Wolf”, had returned after 17 years a fugitive in China. The public was then shocked to learn that Chang was cuffed and released a few hours later, with bail set at a paltry US$30,000. Chang denied that a deal had been made. The Ministry of Justice later apologized for the inept handling of one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives.

Born in 1948, Chang came out of mainlander (post-1949 immigrant) roots in Taiwan. He is most famous for peripheral involvement in the murder of writer Henry Liu in California in 1984 (chronicled in David Kaplan’s Fires of the Dragon). He did a stint at Fort Leavenworth for a drug conviction, during which he earned a couple of college degrees.

Chang An-le, aka the 'White Wolf', pictured in 1995. Pic: AP.

In the 1980s he was active in organized crime activities in Taiwan. He maintains close ties to the island’s crime syndicates and is considered a leader in the pro-unification Bamboo Union gang. The bullet maker for the 2004 assassination attempt on Chen Shui-bian, Tang Yi-shou, fled to Chang in China during the subsequent police investigation. As John Pomfret reported over a decade ago in the Washington Post:

To show their respect, many restaurants in Taichung in central Taiwan and in Taipei serve whiskies named “Dances with Wolves” and “Wolf Legend.”

Like many powerful Taiwan gangsters, Chang supports annexing Taiwan to China and appears closely allied to the current ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT). He appeared at the airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan covering his handcuffs with a pamphlet advocating unification of Taiwan with China. Several years ago President Ma Ying-jeou’s sister met him on a trip to China. Public contacts between KMT politicians and gangsters are common in Taiwan; high ranking KMT politicians often attend weddings and funerals of gangsters. In few democracies are gangsters and the political system so openly and densely intertwined.

Chang’s appearance is a signal that one of the most important beneficiaries of the cross strait rapprochement between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are Taiwan’s organized crime gangs, who do a rousing business in prostitution, gambling, money laundering, stolen art, and fraud across the water.

Moreover, Chang’s insistence that he will engage in “political charity activities” once he has been acquitted may also signal a new and ominous phase for political speech in Taiwan. Taipei-based writer and Taipei Times deputy editor J Michael Cole has drawn attention to incidents of apparent organized crime intimidation of independent media in Hong Kong. In the martial law era in Taiwan, gangsters were often employed during protests to provoke violence and attack protesters. Cole observed in an editorial in the Taipei Times:

…..it seems it is acceptable for police to rough up and deny the rights of peaceful protesters in Miaoli, or for the security apparatus to monitor and harass student leaders such as Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), but when it comes to a gangster who played a role in the 1984 murder of Henry Liu (劉宜良), a journalist in California, the justice system treats him with utmost deference.

Cole warned that Chang’s arrival may be the harbinger of gang violence against pro-democracy and independence voices. In 2006 Chang associate Lin Chen-chieh attacked a democracy advocate during a television show.

REF: I posted a long piece on Chang a few years ago at the venerable blog Taiwan Matters!