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Prosecutors seek to detain World Cup betting suspects

Federal prosecutors have mounted a new push to detain as flight risks the eight defendants arrested in an alleged World Cup betting scheme.

Most of the defendants, who are citizens of either China or Malaysia, signed waivers agreeing not to fight extradition back to the United States should they flee to their native countries after being released.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Frayn said in court papers this week that the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs in Washington reviewed the extradition waivers and concluded they are legally deficient and can’t be enforced.

“They cannot be relied upon to assure the defendants’ compliance with the court’s orders, including the order to remain in Clark County and to appear for trial,” Frayn wrote. “Under these circumstances, the only way to ensure the defendants attend their court appearances as ordered is for the court to order the defendants detained.”

Two of the defendants — Malaysian businessmen Wei Seng “Paul” Phua, 50, and his son Darren Phua, 23 — have been released on bail posted by Phil Ivey and and another well-known poker professional. Seng Chen “Richard” Yong, 57, and his son, Wai Kin Yong, 23, were ordered released on bail last week, but as of Thursday they were still in custody.

Authorities believe Paul Phua and Richard Yong, both well-known at poker tables in Las Vegas and Macau, were ringleaders of the international betting scheme that accepted millions of dollars in wagers on the World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil.

Frayn wants a federal magistrate to reopen detention hearings for the defendants and allow her to argue to keep them behind bars.

Las Vegas attorney David Chesnoff, who represents Phua, was guarded in his public response to the government’s latest detention effort.

“If necessary, we are planning a vigorous response,” Chesnoff said.

In the case of the Phuas and Yongs, who are Malaysian citizens, Frayn said, the extradition waiver is impractical because under the terms of the country’s treaty with the United States the defendants would have to go to Malaysia and be questioned about it by legal authorities there.

“Of course, the government objects to the defendants leaving Clark County to return to Malaysia to seek such a canvass with the Malaysian courts,” Frayn wrote.

One defendant is from China, but the United States has no extradition treaty with China, Frayn said. The other three defendants are from Hong Kong, which is part of China and defers to China on extradition matters.

Frayn said it is unlikely China would turn over any of its citizens to the United States.

The eight defendants arrested in the scheme last month, seven men and one woman, each face one count of transmission of illegal wagering information and one count of operating an illegal gambling business, both felonies.

The Phuas pleaded not guilty to the charges on Tuesday, and the Yongs and the four other defendants, some with the help of Chinese-speaking interpreters, pleaded not guilty Thursday. A Sept. 29 trial was set, but is likely to be continued.

The indictment alleges the defendants ran the illegal operation from June 6 through their July 13 arrests in Las Vegas.

FBI agents took the defendants into custody following a raid days earlier at Caesars Palace, which was not a target of the investigation. The international betting operation is alleged to have begun in Macau.

Phua and more than 20 other people were arrested June 18 in Macau for running a large gambling operation that authorities allege took in hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal bets on the World Cup.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter: @JGermanRJ.

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