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Myanmar's heroin 'Godfather' dies

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A notorious crony of Myanmar's former junta, dubbed by the US the "Godfather of Heroin" after decades as a global drug trafficker, has died aged 80, according to a family announcement Monday.

Lo Hsing Han, a major heroin trafficker since the 1970s, avoided a death sentence in his early drug career only to reinvent himself as a tycoon at the head of one of Myanmar's largest firms in a roller-coaster life that saw him amass huge wealth.

Along with his business partner and son Steven Law, he was targeted by the United States Treasury with sanctions from 2008. The pair were labelled "two key financial operatives of the Burmese regime" for their close business ties to Myanmar's former generals.

In an obituary in state media, the family said Lo Hsing Han died late on Saturday night and there will be a funeral in Yangon on July 17.

"Our sorrow is as great as that of the bereaved family and we wish him peace," said Myanmar's agriculture minister Myint Hlaing, in a message of condolences printed in the state-run Myanmar-language newspapers, Myanma Alinn and the Mirror.

Lo Hsing Han rose to prominence at a time when Myanmar, with its so-called "Golden Triangle" neighbours, was at the epicentre of world heroin production.

"Lo Hsing Han, known as the 'Godfather of Heroin,' has been one of the world's key heroin traffickers dating back to the early 1970s," the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control said in 2008.

The drugs baron was arrested in 1973 and sentenced to death. But in 1980 he was pardoned and less than a decade later he was thought to have helped the military regime in negotiations with rebel communist fighters.

In 1992 he founded a business, Asia World, that was to become one of Myanmar's richest -- helped by juicy contracts with the junta.

"Asia World has provided critical support to the Burmese regime and has received numerous lucrative government concessions, including the construction of ports, highways and government facilities," the US Treasury said.

Steven Law "joined his father's drug empire in the 1990s and has since become one of the wealthiest individuals in Burma", the 2008 US statement said, referring to the country's former name.

Myanmar remains the world's second largest producer of opium -- the raw ingredient for heroin -- after Afghanistan, accounting for 10 percent of global production, according to figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130708/myanmars-heroin-godfather-dies