Under the leadership of Macau’s first Chief Executive (CE) Edmund Ho, Secretary for Administration and Justice Florinda da Rosa Silva Chan, Secretary for Economy and Finance Francis Tam Pak-yuen, Secretary for Security Cheong Kuoc Vá, Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Chui Sai On, and Secretary for Transport and Public Works Ao Man Long, became Macau’s first government since its return to China. In March, Ho issued Macau’s first policy address. In May, Ho made his first foreign visit and headed for Portugal and France. Also this year, the former Macau branch of Xinhua news agency was officially named as the Central People’s Government Liaison Office in Macau.
In August, the Legislative Assembly passed the “Legal Framework for the Operations of Casino Games of Fortune,” which stipulated the operational requirements, eligibility of major shareholders and management of the casinos and gaming tax. Upon the expiry of Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau’s (STDM) existing monopoly concession on December 31, 2001, the Macau SAR decided to grant three gaming concessions. There was a total of 21 tendering bids received during the period, with bidders holding capital in Macau, Hong Kong, the U.S., Malaysia, Australia, the United Kingdom and Taiwan, among other places. In the same year, lawyer Jorge Neto Valente was kidnapped, and later rescued in a a dramatic operation coordinated by top police commissioner Proença Branco.
The Macau government announced the results of the tendering process. The concessions were granted to Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (“SJM”), a subsidiary of STDM, Galaxy Casino, S.A. (“Galaxy”), and Wynn Resorts (Macao) S.A. (“Wynn”). The concession contracts for the operation of casino games of fortune were signed on March 28, and June 24 and 26 respectively. In December of that year, Macau made an alteration to Galaxy’s concession contract, which permitted Galaxy to have a sub-concession relationship with the Venetian Macao S.A. (“Venetian”). Following the issuance of this first sub-concession, SJM subsequently signed a sub-concession with MGM Grand Paradise, S.A. (“MGM”) on April 20, 2005 and Wynn signed one with Melco PBL Jogos (Macau), S.A. (“Melco PBL”) on September 8, 2006.
A SARS epidemic outbreak killed 299 people in Hong Kong, while only one case was recorded in Macau. The outbreak also caused a major negative impact to Macau’s economy, but other changes instigated by the mainland were also underway this year. In July, mainland China launched the Individual Visa Scheme for mainland residents to visit Macau and Hong Kong. Zhongshan, Foshan, Jiangmen, and Dongguan were the first four cities included in the scheme. The Forum for Economic and Trade Co-operation between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries (Macao), also known as Forum Macao, was created in October. The Council of Portuguese Community held an election, with José Maria Pereira Coutinho elected for the first time as a member of this council.
The sub-concessions model of Macau gaming stirred controversy in town. Sands China’s first casino property, Sands Macao, was opened. It was the first ever gaming investment project developed by an American company in Asia. In the same year, Galaxy’s first project, Casino Waldo, also commenced operations. Wynn’s first casino hotel had its stone-laying ceremony in June. Meanwhile, on December 19, the third Macau-Taipa link, Sai Van Bridge, was officially completed. In politics, Edmund Ho received 296 votes in the second Chief Executive election and was appointed for a second term as the leader of Macau. The then-Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Macau to congratulate Ho.
The U.S. found evidence, in an investigation codenamed Royal Charm and Operation Working Dragon, that the Chinese Communist Party was involved in the illegal smuggling of North Korean-made counterfeit U.S. dollar banknotes, counterfeit cigarettes, drugs and Viagra, and that North Korea was using Macau to launder money. U.S. government officials immediately imposed financial sanctions on Banco Delta Asia.
The U.S. investigation also found that in addition to Banco Delta Asia, the Bank of China, Macau branch was also involved in the money laundering scheme. Meanwhile, Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio paid a week-long visit to Macau, becoming the first such official to visit the SAR in the post-handover period. Macau was classified as World Heritage by UNESCO.
Macau’s first Secretary for Transport and Public Works, Ao Man Long, was arrested on corruption charges. The Chinese State Council approved the dismissal of Ao on the same night of the arrest. Along with Ao, more than 10 other people, including his relatives, were arrested for their involvement in the corruption case. Ao was the first top official to be indicted and trialed for a crime since the handover. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison the following year. Meanwhile, more than 20 people were found guilty of involvement in an election corruption case concerning the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Macau.
The Venetian Macao opened in Cotai, becoming the third largest building in the world and the biggest in Asia. Within one week of its opening, the Venetian Macao had attracted 450,000 visitors, exceeding the number of first week visitors of other properties in the city, including Sands Macao, Wynn Macau, Starworld, and the Grand Lisboa. Venetian Macao’s venture into brand new territory was followed by the openings of Melco’s City of Dreams (2009) and Galaxy (2011), and they together came to represent the dawn of Cotai development. In another first, on May 1 Labor Day, a police officer fired five warning gunshots during a fierce conflict between demonstrators and police officers.
Edmund Ho announces the introduction of Macau’s national security law, which proposed the establishment of Article 23 of the Basic Law. In the first half of the year, energy prices climbed to historic highs and the appreciation of the RMB accelerated. Macau’s inflation rose further, measured by a nearly 10% increase in consumer prices. At the same time, gross domestic product growth soared to double-digit rates in the first three quarters of the year, before dipping in the fourth amid Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy. In May, the Macau government introduced the cash handout scheme. Pan-democratic lawmakers were refused entry to Macau on December 20, 2008.
Article 23 came into effect in March. Just two months earlier, a South China Morning Post photojournalist was denied entry into Macau. It marked the first recorded case of a journalist being banned from entering Macau. In June, Chinese dissident Wu’erkaixi, a former leader of the Tiananmen protests, flew to Macau to turn himself in to the Liaison Office.
However, he was refused entry to the city and then deported to Taiwan. Chui Sai On was elected as second Chief Executive of Macau with 282 votes, keeping all the five cabinet secretaries in place. Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Macau to preside over Chui’s appointment ceremony.
On Labor Day, various labor groups held a demonstration expressing their discontent with a series of social problems that had materialized since the handover. The demonstration eventually became violent. The police used specialized crowd management vehicles and demonstrators threw rocks and other items at police officers. In total, 41 people sustained injuries. Approximately 20 journalists were contained by police officers and stopped from reporting the event for nearly two hours. The Macau police authority determined this demonstration to be illegal. In October, lawmakers Ng Kuok Cheong and Au Kam San gathered at the Ruins of St. Paul’s to celebrate the late Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who had recently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In January, Stanley Ho, through his lawyer Gordon Oldham, filed a lawsuit against his children, relatives and their related companies to recover SJM Holdings Limited’s equity. Ho sued 11 people, including his wife, Lucina Laam King Ying, and Ina Chan Un Chan to claw back 32% of the shares held in SJM. In the admission statement, Ho indicated that his second and third partners, among other accused parties, inappropriately issued new shares and allocated them to two companies held by his second and third partners. Ho sought an injunction to prevent them from making equity distributions.
The Legislative Assembly passed the amendment of the regime for the election of the body in August. The new provisions proposed the number of directly elected members of the fifth Legislative Assembly be increased from 12 to 14 and the number of indirectly elected members to be increased from 10 to 12. In that year, the Macau SAR government consulted on the development of the political system, but the process was highly controversial, and most residents were not clear about the details of the consultation. The government said that the plan to have two more indirectly elected lawmakers and two appointed lawmakers stemmed from the mainstream consensus However, the government’s claim left the democratic party disillusioned.
Three members of the Macau United Citizens Association, including Chan Meng Kam, Si Ka Lon and Song Pek Kei, were elected as new lawmakers. However, two people in the same team were later found guilty of election corruption. In May, lawyer Jorge Menezes was ambushed in Sintra Square by two mainland assailants. One of the assailants was subsequently sentenced to one year and nine months of imprisonment. The other was found not guilty. In academia, the University of Macau’s new campus in Hengqin was handed over to Macau’s jurisdiction on July 20.
In May, approximately 20,000 people participated in a mass demonstration against the compensation bill for top-ranking public officials, which proposed lavish retirement welfare for the Chief Executive and other high officials. Chui Sai On eventually withdrew the bill. It also marked the biggest demonstration in Macau since the Tiananmen Square-related protests of 1989. On December 19 and 20, the new Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Macau. Meanwhile, the MSAR officially entered into economic recession due to a steep decline in gross gaming revenue. Chui entirely revamped his cabinet after his second appointment as Chief Executive, and appointed Sonia Chan (SAJ), Lionel Leong (SEF), Wong Sio Chak (SS), Alexis Tam (SASC) and Raimundo do Rosário (STOP). 2014 was also marred by the sacking of two outspoken scholars, Eric Sautedé (USJ) and Bill Chou (UM), which was seen as a major blow to academic freedom.
In November, former director-general of the Customs Service Lai Man Wa allegedly committed suicide by using drugs, a razor blade and a plastic bag inside a public bathroom. A postmortem examination concluded she died from suffocation. In December of that year, over 1,400 pre-sale buyers of the Pearl Horizon complex gathered outside the Polytec Asset’s headquarters to protest against the non-development of their apartments and the decision of the administration to reclaim the land from the concession holder.
Alan Ho was released from prison after having received a sentence of 13 months (served on remand), for one crime of prostitution exploitation. The judicial system found Ho guilty of being aware of the activities and knowingly allowing them to continue to operate in the hotel. An appeal of the sentence was successful in 2019 and the sentence was raised to eight years. Meanwhile, most lawmakers blocked a proposal delivered by lawmaker Ng Kuok Cheong that aimed to force the government to initiate political reform for eventual universal suffrage in the election of the Chief Executive. Some accused Ng of trying to make Macau’s legislators “hostage” to his private interests.
The most severe typhoon in half a century swept into Macau on August 23 causing unprecedented loss of life and damage to infrastructure throughout the city. The signal No.10 typhoon, the then-highest category in Macau’s official storm index, killed 10 people. Less than a month later, pro-democrat Sulu Sou took the Legislative Assembly election by storm to become the city’s youngest lawmaker at 26. By the year end, Sou was suspended in order to face criminal investigation accused of “aggravated disobedience”. In the same year, former top prosecutor Ho Chio Meng was sentenced to 21 years in jail and the court ruled Ho should pay around 75 million patacas to public coffers. On February 13, Kim Jong-nam was murdered when he was attacked with VX nerve agent at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia.
Macau’s Court of First Instance found Sulu Sou guilty of the crime of unlawful assembly and sentenced him and fellow political activist Scott Chiang to 120 days worth of fines. The penalty was not enough to expel him from the legislature and he resumed his mandate. In another controversy at the Legislative Assembly, two chief legal advisers, Paulo Cardinal and Paulo Taipa were dismissed from service inexplicably in what was seen by many lawyers and observers as a case of political persecution. The Legislative Assembly president at that time, future Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng, said that the dismissal was neither due to political reasons, nor due to the advisers’ Portuguese ethnicity, but instead to allow them “to pursue other careers.”
In August, Macau security forces deployed at least six police minibuses as well as dozens of officers – some uniformed and others wearing plain clothes – to prevent a planned protest against Hong Kong police officers’ violence from going ahead in Macau’s Senado Square. In September, Ho Iat Seng was officially recognized in Beijing as the Chief Executive-elect of the Macau SAR for the fifth government term. On December 10, the Macau Light Rapid Transit (LRT) officially opened to the public and was temporarily suspended during the visit of president Xi Jinping. Over a dozen journalists from Hong Kong, coming to cover the event were barred at the border for “security reasons.”