Malaysian Poker Player’s Refusal to Fold to U.S. Pays Off

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A Malaysian poker player’s refusal to fold to the U.S. government’s charges that he ran an illegal World Cup gambling ring in Las Vegas let him walk away free, with his luxury jet in his possession.

Wei Seng Phua’s all-in bet paid off Monday when a U.S. judge threw out the case after refusing to let the government’s evidence be used at trial. Others involved, including Phua’s son, had earlier pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and were allowed to leave the U.S.

Phua, 50, a businessman with interests in luxury hotels and mining who competes in high-stakes poker events, was arrested with a group of Asian men and women after Caesars Palace had alerted authorities to an unusual large number of computers and TVs set up in one of their hotel villas, making it look like a sports-betting room.

FBI agents crossed the line on constitutional protection against unreasonable searches when they cut off the Internet connection and entered the suite without a warrant posing as repairmen, U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon ruled in April. In throwing out the charges Monday, the judge also ordered the government to return Phua’s passport and $48 million private jet.

“Paul Phua stayed in the United States to defeat these charges because he was innocent and because the government’s misconduct made the case even more unjust,” Thomas Goldstein, one of his lawyers, said in a statement. “Today, his faith in the American justice system was completely vindicated.”

Natalie Collins, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas, declined to comment on the judge’s decision to throw the case out.

The judge last week also threw out the evidence obtained from searches of two other villas the group used because a warrant was based on the earlier illegal entry to Phua’s suite.

Prosecutors said in a court filing last week they were reviewing Gordon’s rulings suppressing the evidence for a possible appeal.

The case is U.S. v. Phua, 14-cr-00249, U.S. District Court, District of Nevada (Las Vegas).

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