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This paper seeks to outline the overall situation of Asian Organised Crime (AOC) and prevailing trends. It will be also elaborated the background, characteristics and developments of AOC groups.
Major criminal organisations in Asia
Criminal organisations in Asia can be distinguished mainly by their ethnic origin. The following criminal organisations are most active in Asia:
Triad societies based in Hong Kong, China
Modern triad societies trace their history back to the secret political societies formed in China during the 17th Century to overthrow the Ching Dynasty. The term 'triad' is based on the triangular symbol found on flags and banners of the early secret societies. The symbol represents the three essential elements of heaven, earth, and man.
Triad societies still maintain ritualized initiation ceremonies meant to introduce a strong sense of exclusivity, and more importantly, loyalty to other triad members. The existence of triads is most extensively documented in Hong Kong. There are currently about 50 triad societies in Hong Kong, with about 14 of those being very active. The most influential triad societies are San Yee On, 14K and Wo Shing Wo.
During the 1960s (political unrest in China) and the 1990s (Hong Kong's returning its sovereignty to China), a number of members of the triad society moved to other countries where they set up similar organisations. These countries include Australia, Canada, United States, United Kingdom, and some other European countries.
Triad societies all display some degree of hierarchy, and a typical triad has members organised by rank. The leader of a triad is known as the 'Dragon Head' or 'Chor Kwun'. Although hierarchical in nature, triads tend not to be strictly controlled from the top. Triad society members frequently branch out into their own criminal enterprises. Although the triad leadership does not always initiate and direct the activities of all the triad members, triads themselves will serve as international networking associations that facilitate such activity. Triad membership is thus a valuable asset to the new international criminal. Triad membership facilitates criminal activities in a manner similar to the way membership in business associations facilitates the activities of a legitimate businessman.
Their major international activities include drug trafficking; human smuggling and illegal prostitution; counterfeiting and smuggling of commodities; business fraud, credit card fraud and money laundering; theft of vehicles and exporting stolen vehicles; illegal gambling; extortion and kidnapping.
China Originated Criminal Gangs
Chinese criminal gangs started to appear in the 1970s with the economic growth. At the same time, Chinese immigrants to Hong Kong established the Big Circle Gangs to protect themselves. These groups initially consisted primarily of former soldiers who left China for Hong Kong. Big Circle Gang members are particularly violent, specializing in armed robberies of jewelry stores in Hong Kong as well as in heroin trafficking. The Big Circle Gang is technically not a triad society, but most Big Circle Gang members are also members of various triad societies. Big Circle gangs started off by engaging primarily in localized violent crimes such as contract killing and armed robbery. However, after having established their criminal enterprise in Hong Kong, they developed further by joining criminal groups based in China and involved themselves also in transnational crimes both within and outside Asia. For example, they have recently extended their criminals activities to countries such as Russia. Furthermore Criminal groups formed by immigrants (either legal or illegal) from Fuzhou have also started to become a major problem in Europe and North America.
Their major international activities include drug trafficking; human smuggling and illegal prostitution; contract killing; smuggling of firearms; money laundering; illegal gambling; extortion and kidnapping.
Taiwan, Chinese Criminal Gangs
Taiwan, Chinese criminal gangs can be traced back to the 1940s. Their operation is very similar to the Hong Kong based triad societies but with much more involvement in the business and political sectors. The best known and largest of the two are the United Bamboo Gang and the Four Seas Gang. Their members have also established sub- branches in other countries such as the United States and Canada.
Their major international activities include drug trafficking; human smuggling; money laundering; illegal gambling; extortion and kidnapping; business fraud and property development by coercion and corruption.
The most well known type of criminal organisations in Japan is Boryokudan. Boryokudan originated mainly from habitual gamblers called "Bakuto" and stall operators called "Tekiya", who appeared in the early 17th Century. In the aftermath of World War II, hooligan gangs called "Gurentai" appeared and each of these three groups gained an oligopoly of black markets, engaged in drug trafficking, intervened in show business. In short, they engaged in anything they could profit from. Violent criminal groups known nowadays as Boryokudan were thus formed. Boryokudan strengthens its organisation by developing pseudo-kinship among members. Each organisation is hierarchically incorporated into a superior organisation.
The boss of the organisation in the highest position has several followers, each of whom is the boss of a secondary level and so on. There is a tribute system in which each organisation pays money to the higher organisation that its boss belongs to. The system of paying tribute like a membership fee to the superior organisation gives high- ranking bosses opportunities to collect huge amounts of money. In exchange, lower-ranking members are allowed to use the name of the organisation to exert fear and intimidation so as to support their criminal activities.
Boryokudan creates a sphere of influence by its own. They instigate confrontations, sometimes merge with other gangs or split among themselves repetitiously in order to expand their power. As of 2007, the most active Boryokudan in Japan are: Rokudaime Yamaguchi-gumi (about 20,400 in strength): Sumiyoshi-Kai (about 6,100 in strength); and, Inagawa-Kai (about 4,800 in strength). The fundraising activities of Boryokudan used to be habitual gambling or stall operation but they have since moved into more profitable activities. Recently, their activities have been expanded to include legitimate business dealings.
Boryokudan began to intervene in a variety of businesses, most notably construction and transportation. Recently there have been numerous publicly reported incidents revealing the Boryokudan's involvement in public corruption involving major figures in industry and finance. Much of their business is facilitated through extortion, and Boryokudan have often used strong-arm tactics in business transactions of all sizes.
Over the last three decades, Japanese organised crime has expanded overseas. While Japanese crime groups have been active in Korea since the end of World War II, Boryokudan prostitution operations in Korea greatly expanded in the 1970s. During that decade, the Boryokudan became deeply involved in the international sex trade. Boryokudan- controlled prostitution, pornography, and 'sex tour' operations stretched to Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, and later to South America, Europe, and the United States. Boryokudan members have recruited American women from Hawaii and the West Coast into prostitution in Japan.
Boryokudan's operations in the United States during recent years have included gun running; drug trafficking; gambling; extortion immigration fraud; securities violations and money laundering. Boryokudan gangs currently play the primary role in bringing crystal methamphetamine into Hawaii. Japanese criminal figures routinely visit Las Vegas, and also Atlantic City, on gambling junkets. Additionally, Boryokudan members have been tied to illegal gambling operations in the United States.
Vietnamese gangs, mainly based outside Vietnam are known to be highly mobile and transient. Despite their apparent lack of ties, Vietnamese gang members are able to utilize contacts in various Asian and Central European countries as these relations were established in refugee camps in South-east Asia.
Vietnamese crime groups are generally considered to be less organised but more violent than ethnic Chinese organised crime groups. Some groups, such as the New York-based Born to Kill Gang are well structured within a definite leadership hierarchy. Other gangs are less structured and constantly changing in affiliation. Ethnic Chinese from Vietnam often play important roles as members of Vietnamese gangs or as links between Vietnamese and Chinese crime groups. Historically, Chinese organised criminals used ethnic-Vietnamese as foot-soldiers, although recent evidence suggests that the Vietnamese are no longer as ready to be recruited as previously. There are several smaller Vietnamese- dominated gangs which include members from other Asian countries such as Laos and Cambodia.
It is also reported that Vietnamese organised crime gangs are also active in the Czech Republic. This is because socialist Czechoslovakia was a main source of military materials and weapons for North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. After the war, economic and political relations between the two states improved and Vietnamese, including the criminal gang members emigrated and eventually settled in the Czech Republic.
Vietnamese crime groups are involved in a wide range of transnational criminal activities including drug trafficking; fraud; auto theft; money laundering; human trafficking; smuggling of firearms and illegal gambling.
New Trends in Asian Organised Crime
Increasingly, The criminal activities of AOC gangs include both domestic and international activities. However, even activities such as illegal gambling, extortion, and prostitution, which have previously been deemed to traditionally been localized criminal activity, are belong in the domestic domain, are increasingly becoming transnational in nature. For example, prostitutes are imported or smuggled, sometimes against their will, over national borders, while proceeds from illegal domestic activities such as gambling are often laundered internationally.
The formation of transnational links has become an emerging characteristic of organised crime. Organised crime groups are no longer stand-alone units. Rather, they form networks linked to one another through various forms of solidarity, complicity and spurious hierarchical order.
The global networks of organised crime provide mobility, effective communication infrastructure, and international connections for criminal enterprises. These structures have been essential in enabling criminal groups to create "strategic alliances" based on economic considerations such as risk reduction, need for specialized services and desire to enter new markets.
Possible Link to Insurgents and Terrorist
The international criminal organisations operate vast transnational business empires and there are suggestions that they have begun to establish links, not only to other similar groups, but also to insurgents and terrorists. There is thus a growing concern of the potential of AOC groups may potentially grow to threaten global security.
Use of Modern Technology
Modern technology in the banking, communications and electronic sectors has provided criminals with new tools which enable them to steal millions of dollars. At times, they are able to launder their huge illicit profits across borders and continents simply with as easily as with a click of a button. Illegal transactions can be performed virtually and perpetrators may find it relatively easier to remove traces so as to avoid detection and arrest.
Involvement in Legitimate Business
In addition to committing violent crimes such as robbery, intimidation or blackmailing, AOC groups are also expanding their domain to legitimate business. However, illicit activities, such as such as tax evasion, extortion, gambling and loan-sharking, still continue within their legal trade, such as tax evasion, extortion, gambling and loan-sharking. AOC groups' expansion into legitimate business has resulted in significant grey areas where it is difficult to distinguish between what is legal and what is not. More significantly, illicit activities have also been diffused with the legal trade, producing significant grey areas where it is difficult to distinguish between what is legal and what is not.