`Broken Tooth' lies low

Notorious gangster "Broken Tooth" Wan Kwok-koi has not appeared in public since his release from a Macau prison, evading desperate efforts by an army of journalists to track him down.

Local and foreign media were at Coloane Prison early Saturday morning for the release of Wan, but lost track of him after he had lunch with his family at the Galaxy Macau hotel.

Wan walked out through the back door, giving media the slip.

He has not been seen since - even after the media staked out his luxury home at the Pearl on the Lough in Taipa.

Wan was freed after almost 14 years behind bars for heading the 14K triad, blamed for a brutal gang war and a string of bombings in the former Portuguese enclave during the 1990s.

He was convicted of loan sharking, money laundering and being a gang leader in November 1999, a month before Lisbon returned sovereignty of Macau to China.

A security analyst said Wan, 57, lost power after the decade-long transformation of Macau into the world's top gambling mecca.

"Wan's influence has diminished since the gaming industry has been largely revamped in the decade following the handover," said Steve Vickers, a former Hong Kong police head of intelligence, who is now chief executive of business intelligence and risk consultancy SVA. Macau's decision to end a four-decade casino monopoly in 2002 opened the door for foreign operators to modernize the industry.

"I believe that Wan's release from prison will not pose any threat to Macau, as the Beijing government and the local police will be devoted to maintaining stability," Vickers said.

His gangland brothers reportedly held a feast at the Sheraton Macau Hotel, Cotai Central, to celebrate his release on Saturday night.

A source told Sing Tao Daily, the sister newspaper of The Standard, that some Hong Kong triad members close to Wan had planned to attend but were warned off by police.