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Transnational Communities Programme

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Global Crime: International and Regional Co-operation Among Governments and Gangs Alike

The G8 summit in Britain and the UN Drugs Conference in New York included significant new commitments to combat transnational crime. Regional co-operation among both governments and national police forces were in evidence in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation is active in policing an emerging transnational border zone for global criminal and terrorist networks in Paraguay.

At the G8 meeting held in Birmingham, England, in May, world leaders endorsed a series of measures to combat organised international and transnational crime. This was the first G8 summit to address the issue of drug smuggling, money laundering, arms trafficking and computer fraud. The conference was told that international crime was spreading because of differences in national laws and police systems, the abolition of exchange controls and the growing ease of movement of people, goods and money.

The head of Britain’s National Crime Squad briefed the politicians. Roy Penrose stated that crime cost developed countries the equivalent of 2% of their GNP, and some developing countries up to 14%. He announced that $500 billion a year was laundered through the world’s financial system. G8 agreed to create a global network of measures against money laundering, easier measures for extradition and better access to cross-border access, including testimony by satellite link. A 10-point plan on fighting high-tech crime was endorsed.

President Yeltsin offered to host a conference on organised international crime in 1999. The United Nations is planning a convention on high-tech crime. In December 1997 the G8 had agreed a 10-point plan to combat cyber-crime, described as "transnational high-tech cases".

In June, the United Nations drug summit adopted a statement on drugs crime and a draft action plan. The declaration called on member states and international financial institutions such as the World Bank, to co-operate on fighting the international narcotics trade. The statement explicitly linked the trade to other forms of organised crime, including transnational terrorism. A target of the year 2003 was set for reform of national legislation on drugs trafficking and money laundering and 2008 for the eliminating the production of synthetic drugs. The target for the elimination of coca, cannabis and opium plants was also set at 2008. This was to be achieved by a crop substitution programme alongside burn-and-punish’ tactics. The delegates from 150 countries also agreed to improve international co-ordination of judicial systems and greater sharing of intelligence. They also endorsed measures on money laundering and new standards for the openness of national financial systems.

The conference, the first of its kind held by the United Nations, was the idea of Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo.

The conference was told that the drug business is worth $400 billion a year; that there are 218 million users of illegal drugs world-wide. Most of these are in the developed world, but an increasing number of addicts are being found in traditional exporting countries such as Pakistan. 140 million of the 210 million are marijuana users. Critics of the conference point out that the millions already spent on trying to stop the cultivation of narcotics plants has failed to reduce the world-wide production of cocaine, heroin and opium.

In addition to major international announcements on global crime, there were also a number of important regional agreements in the first seven months of 1998.

In February, the Summit of Americas in Chile agreed to set up a regional law enforcement alliance along the lines of Europe’s Europol.

In April, the Arab League countries signed a declaration against terrorism at their meeting in Cairo. The 22 governments committed themselves to refusing support to groups or individuals mounting terrorist attacks against other Arab countries. They also made provisions for sharing information and easing extradition of suspects. The treaty excluded organisations struggling for liberation and self-determination, including Hamas and Hezbollah. It was aimed at groups such as Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group and Egypt’s Gamat al-Islamiya, held responsible for the massacre of 58 tourists in Luxor in November 1997.

In May, police forces in five European countries co-ordinated simultaneous seizures of suspected Islamic ‘terrorists’. It was claimed that the network was planning to disrupt the World Cup football finals in France. A total of 76 people were arrested in France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland. The authorities claim that they include senior members of the Armed Islamic Group, a splinter group from the Algerian FIS. Nationals from Tunisia and France are also on the list of suspects. Within France, raids were made in Paris, Lyon, Marseilles and Corsica; in Germany, Bonn and Cologne; in Italy, Milan; in Belgium Brussels and Charleroi.

The Second Asia-Pacific Intergovernmental Meeting on Human Resources Development for Youth held a panel discussion on the globalisation of child sex abuse in June. The delegates also considered the role of computer technology in international child sex exploitation, and the growth of international child smuggling and mail-order purchase.

In July, Poland and Ukraine signed an agreement to crack down on the smuggling of prostitutes or sex slaves between the two countries. The two police forces would collaborate. A meeting between the two countries was attended by members of La Strada, a foundation created to fight the sex trade in the European Union. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 Ukrainian women have been transported to Poland and the West, many lured by false promises of a better life. Bulgarian prostitutes are reported to remain in Poland (estimated at 3,500), while those from Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus are often moved on to Western Europe after arriving from Poland.

After the G8 conference, Japan and China announced that they would co-operate more on transnational crime. Initial contacts between the countries’ two police forces began in 1997. The areas discussed between the Japanese Home Minister and his Chinese counterpart included drugs, arms and money-laundering.

One area of successful co-operation is in crime syndicate smuggling of immigrants between China and Japan via Hong Kong. A joint police operation resulted in many arrests in May and June. Another area of concern is drug-trafficking. Since the early 1990s China has become a major centre of the production of synthetic drugs, often smuggled by gangs via Hong Kong and Taiwan. The Chinese authorities identify criminal organisations operating from outside China as the source of the problem.

In Japan, the police are alarmed by the increase in the number of foreigners arrested for criminal offences. Numbers rose by 16.8% to over 30,000 between 1996 and 1997. Chinese accounted for 43% of the arrests.

In May, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it would join police forces from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay in a crack down on international criminals operating in the border region between the three South American countries. The FBI recognise the need for regional co-operation on crime-fighting to combat transnational criminal organisations. FBI officers in Argentina are co-operating with local authorities on the investigation into bombings against Jewish targets in 1992 and 1994. Among the suspects are Argentine police officers and terrorists from the Middle East, which the FBI claims are sheltering in Argentina’s immigrant communities.

The FBI and national police forces are focusing their efforts on the Ciudad del Este region of Paraguay. Details of the alleged haven for global criminal networks were provided by Sebastian Rotella in two articles published by the Los Angeles Times. Lying inside Paraguay but close to Brazil and Argentina, the area is identified as a centre for drugs, arms, stolen cars, money laundering and pirated video and cassette tapes. It is said that criminals from Asia, the Middle East and South America concentrate in the border region. There are reports of individuals connected to the Cantonese mafia, Japanese yakuza, and Colombian drug cartels being located there. There are also suspicions that international terrorist organisations, including the Hezbollah, are based in Ciudad del Este.

Cocaine is smuggled from Bolivia and Colombia into Argentina and Brazil via Paraguay. Paraguayan-grown marijuana takes the same route. Argentina supplies the chemicals for Paraguayan cocaine refining. Guns from the USA are smuggled into Brazil, while cars stolen in Brazil and Argentina taken to Paraguay, and then to Bolivia and beyond.

The region is being described as graphic evidence of the globalization of crime. Ciudad del Este gained a reputation for lawlessness in the 1950s, as a centre of smuggling between the three countries. Paraguayan dictator General Stroessner encouraged Nazi fugitives to settle in the area. The weakening of national borders and the ease of international travel and communication have subsequently transformed the region into a transnational criminal node. The criminals exploit the poor co-ordination between the police forces and border authorities of the three countries. The FBI aims to provide the forces with improved computer and surveillance equipment, and training for specialised squads. Paraguayan police personnel have also visited Taiwan to learn how to deal with Asian gangs.

In 1997 the USA de-certified Paraguay’s anti-drugs policy on the grounds of its extensive corruption. Disney Co. has withdrawn its products from the country in protest at the level of cassette, CD and video piracy, estimated at $150 million. The Brazilian authorities calculate that there are over 100 secret airstrips in the Paraguay border region, used for smuggling goods worth over $1.5 billion a year. But among the smugglers ferrying cartons of cigarettes into Brazil are many small operators alongside organised syndicates.

The highway from Paraguay’s capital Asunción to Curitiba in Brazil crosses the river Paraná, which forms the international boundary. Each day more than 40,000 people cross the bridge across the river, most of them unchecked by the authorities. The trade in goods of all sorts has attracted merchants from abroad, including Taiwanese and Lebanese. Ciudad del Este has a Taiwanese community of 8,000. Foz do Iguaçu, in Brazil, has a substantial Arab community. Entrepreneurs have opened factories making toys and cheap manufactures, taking advantage of the tariff and tax differences between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.

Law-enforcement agencies are not the only organisations capable of international co-operation. The Times (of London) reported on a meeting of international criminals held in Beaune, France, in March. At a hotel in Burgundy, representatives of organised crime from Russia, China, Japan, Italy and Colombia met to discuss how to manage crime in Europe. According to French intelligence, a similar convention was held in Beaune in 1994 as well as two meetings on yachts in the Mediterranean.

The 1998 meeting was the first to be attended by delegates from the Russian mafia. It is claimed that there are over 8,000 organised crime groups in Russia, 200 with ties abroad. Their interests include extortion, prostitution and fraud in Germany, Belgium, Italy and Holland. A member of New York’s Gambino clan represented the Italian mafia. Also present were members of the Sun Yee On triad from Hong Kong, active in Britain, Belgium, France and Holland, and the Japanese Yakuza.

The crime bosses discussed the geographical organisation of crime, dividing cities and rural areas between them. The police also think that the conference made arrangements for avoiding the duplication of drug smuggling routes.

Leaders prepare to announce an agreement to fight computer crime, BBC 11.12.97; Crime Kings meet to carve up Europe, Andrew Alderson and Carey Scott, Times of London 29.3.98; Arab League states sign treaty to combat terrorism, John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times 23.4.98; New global war on drugs tackles a losing battle 27 world leaders set to sign U.N. pledge next month, Stephen Handelman, Toronto Star 4.5.98; FBI to join crackdown on Latin America crime, Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times 13.5.98; Police chief urges leaders to declare joint war on global crime: G8 summit, Michael Binyon, The Times of London 18.5.98; G8 leaders stand together against international crime, Financial Post 19.5.98; European police hold 76 suspects in World Cup anti-terrorism swoop, John Lichfield, Independent 27.5.98; Child sex abuse now a global issue, Anjira Assavanonda, Bangkok Post 2.6.98; Main points of declarations at UN drugs summit, Agence France Presse English Wire 11.6.98; Tremble, Medellin, tremble, The Economist 13.6.98; Crime-fighting brings Japan and China closer together, Eiji Hotopp Furukawa, Nikkei Weekly 15.6.98; Former Soviet states unite to fight sex slave industry, Piotr Bazylko, Reuters 16.7.98; Jungle hub for world's outlaws, Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times 24.8.98


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