Newsletter

2ND HUMSEC CONFERENCE AND CALL FOR PAPERS

The second conference of the HUMSEC project focuses on the multiple interactions among transnational illegal organizations, state institutions, and the civil society in the Balkan region, and how these influence post-conflict capacity building. Contributions by regional experts, comparativists and theory-oriented social scientists, as well as governmental and non-governmental practitioners are particularly welcome.

The HUMSEC project, invites suggestions for presentations at this conference to be held in Sarajevo, 4-6 October 2007. The working language of the conference will be English and all presentations/papers will be in English.

Titles of proposed papers, plus abstracts of approximately 350 words are invited no later than 31 March 2007.

Please see further information on the Humsec website.

JAPAN: GANGSTERS MUSCLE IN ON PART-TIME PRACTICES

The popular image of Japanese gangsters – tattoos and missing fingers – is pretty hackneyed. But when it comes to business practice, yakuza gangs are positive trendsetters.

Figures released by the police this week show that Japan’s mobsters, whose members patrol the country’s ubiquitous red-light districts, have a far more flexible labour force than conventional businesses. For the first time since records began in 1958 – Japanese statisticians keep records of almost everything – the number of yakuza part-timers, at 43,200, has outstripped regular employees of 41,500.

Gangs have also become more efficient. In spite of a steady advance in revenue, which has mirrored the economy’s return to modest health since 2002, they have cut their workforce. Last year it fell by 1,600. “These guys are the best entrepreneurs in the country, certainly the most responsive to change in business conditions,” says a lawyer who deals with underworld issues.

Estimates of the size of crime-related activity remain notoriously sketchy, making it impossible for economists to calculate gains in total mobster factor productivity. But the trend is clear. In 1991, part-timers made up 33 per cent of total gang membership, a proportion that had risen to 51 per cent by last year. Conventional businesses have lagged behind that trend; a decade ago, part-timers made up 19 per cent of the workforce, rising to about 30 per cent today.

The sharp rise in part-timers, the product of 1990s restructuring, has helped conventional businesses control costs and return to record profits. But divisions in the labour market between regular and non-regular workers has provoked soul-searching about the creation of an underclass of “working poor”. In the crime world, this has been less of an issue. Yoshinori Watanabe, former leader of the Yamaguchi syndicate, the biggest and most formidable Japanese gang, long ago instructed his members to get regular jobs to camouflage their activity.

Legitimate business, including warehouses, trucking and real estate, make up more than half of gang-related income, experts estimate, the rest being derived from more colourful lines of business, including protection rackets, prostitution and drugs. “There is so much yakuza money coursing through the investment world, it is almost impossible to distinguish it from clean money,” said one financial expert. “They are much better at hiding what they do than they were during the bubble era.”

Part-time gang members may also be opting out of the hierarchical world that full-time membership entails. Onerous duties include making cash payments to the oyabun, a young hoodlum’s father-figure boss, and keeping long hours, for instance by preserving a henchman’s precious parking space. Similarly, in regular business, many young Japanese prefer bouncing between part-time jobs to joining a rule-bound company. Like yakuza gangs, Japanese businesses tend to be hierarchical, with strict dress codes, mind-numbing duties and compulsory overtime.

The liberalisation of gangland labour practices is only one way Japan’s yakuza have innovated. The Yama-guchi syndicate, for example, has led a wave of hostile takeovers unmatched in corporate boardrooms where such tactics are notoriously unsuccessful. The syndicate, based in the central city of Kobe, has moved steadily eastwards, taking over smaller gangs and consolidating its power in Tokyo. This week, two widely publicised shootings have been cited as evidence of the gang’s tightening grip on the capital.

As a result of expansion, Yamaguchi members now account for 47 per cent of all mobsters, once again putting them ahead of the corporate curve. The Fair Trade Commission currently blocks mergers that result in a market share above 35 per cent. But, in the interests of international competitiveness, it is considering raising the threshold to 50 per cent. That rule change would make the Yamaguchi syndicate competition-compliant.

Finacial Times 10 February 2007

OTTAWA DRUG RING ‘VERY WELL ORGANIZED,’ POLICE SAY

OTTAWA — The alleged kingpin of a complex drug-running network that spanned from Vancouver to Toronto to Montreal lived in a modern, two-storey home in suburban Ottawa — the kind of place where you would expect to be greeted by a hockey dad.

But instead of a minivan, he drove a flashy black sports car. And, judging by the types of guns confiscated from his associates, any shots being fired had nothing to do with pucks and nets. The group was “very well organized,” Inspector Gary Meehan of the Ottawa police told a news conference yesterday. That enabled “a hierarchy of associates to conduct hands-on business of drug trafficking and debt collection” under the direction of a leader who had “layers of subordinates.”

Guiseppe Battista, 38, was taken into custody on Jan. 22, an arrest that marks what police say was the beginning of the end of one of the largest organized-crime schemes ever uncovered in the nation’s capital. He was charged with a slew of crimes, including participating in a criminal organization, weapons offences, drug offences and conspiracy to commit murder. Another 17 people were scooped up by police in the hours and days that followed, the final two arrests coming in Montreal on Monday. Collectively, they face 138 charges.

The police had been watching Mr. Battista and his associates for 16 months. They were particularly interested in his friendships with members of the Hells Angels and the famed Rizzuto crime family in Montreal — two of whom are among the accused. When the network appeared to have links to cities beyond Ottawa, members of the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP and the Montreal Police Service were called in to help in what the law-enforcement agencies came to call Project Bulldog. Mr. Battista is alleged to have brought drugs in from Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, which police say he sold locally.

Using electronic surveillance equipment, they have amassed a case against the gang that was responsible for putting a sizable amount of cocaine onto Ottawa streets, they say. The police seized more than 22 kilograms of cocaine, along with smaller amounts of crack cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, Viagra and steroids. They also collected six handguns and a telescoping taser device, as well as more than $1.2-million in assets that they say were obtained through the proceeds of crime. That haul includes two homes owned by Mr. Battista.

Staff Sergeant Mark Pinault said he and his fellow officers believe Mr. Battista had been involved in drug-trafficking operations for more than five years. But Staff Sgt. Pinault said he wasn’t startled to find this type of operation in a suburban neighbourhood. “There’s plenty of criminals still living out in the burbs. I don’t think anybody should be surprised at that.”

Globeandmail.com 14/02/2007

NEW STUDY ON GANGS CONTRADICTS ZERO TOLERANCE POLICIES

SAN ANTONIO — The organized crime and transnational reach of gangs is limited, and “zero tolerance” policies serve only to spread out young people without solving the problem, according to a new study in Spanish-language newspaper Rumbo.
A soon-to-be released report by 14 investigators in seven countries, “Transnational Gangs in Central America, Mexico and the United States,” contradicts popular wisdom about gangs as an international problem that represents a terrorist threat and is linked to drug trafficking. In fact, gangs change from country to country, Gema Santamaria of Mexico’s Autonomous Technological Institute told Rumbo, and do not present a homogenous problem. Symbols, tattoos and the desire to feel that they are part of something bigger cross borders much more fluidly than their operations and logistics, according to the study. Some 85 percent of gang members in El Salvador have no contact with their counterparts in the United States, the report found. Yet governments in the region continue to view gangs as an international terrorist threat, recently launching “Secure Central America,” a regional strategy to combat gang-related activity.
A 2005 academic investigation indicated the presence of 600,000 gang members in Central America, with another 100,000 in the United States. U.S. authorities even listed one gang, Mara Salvatrucha, as a terrorist organization and created a national task force in response to it. The multinational study recommends dialogue between authorities and communities in each country to address the problems that lead young people to join gangs.

rumbonet.com 7 February 2007

CHECH REPUBLIC: ORGANIZED CRIME BLAMED FOR MURDERS

The Police Presidium blames a spike in murders in 2006 on increased organized crime — but the division in charge of investigating the underworld denies the connection.

The Czech homicide rate jumped 24 percent in 2006. A total of 231 murders were reported, according to presidium statistics released Jan. 31, up from 186 in 2005. Deputy Police President Jan Chmelík told reporters that the number of murders connected with the mob increased as well, though he did not provide specific numbers.

Blanka Kosinová, the spokeswoman for the presidium’s organized crime division, followed Chmelík remarks a few days later by saying they were unfounded. “I don’t know what drove Jan Chmelík to such a conclusion,” she said in an interview with The Prague Post. “We do not think that organized crime is to blame for the increasing murder rate. Our surveys and investigations definitely do not prove anything like that.”

Chmelík said more international organized crime groups have gained a foothold in the Czech Republic, which Kosinová also denied. She detailed which groups are here, and which are most active and therefore priorities for police. She said Russian, Ukrainian, Balkan, Asian and Czech mafia groups have established presence. Authorities have recorded a decline in activities from Balkan gangs, which are mostly involved in human trafficking and the drug trade. Kosinová added that the Czech Republic has become a “quiet zone” for both Russian and Ukrainian gangs, who have divided their spheres of influence within the country. More worrying are Czech gangs, which she said are the toughest to investigate since they can wield influence in state administration. “Czech gangs have the most effective contacts,” she said.

It appears others also call into question the presidium’s claim that murders and the mob are connected. According to Alena Marešová of the Czech Institute of Criminology and Social Prevention, a closer look yields different conclusions.“There is no need to be in a panic about the number of murders,” she said. “Violence is not definitely on the rise in the Czech Republic.”
She cited institute statistics that show 25 foreigners committed murders last year. In 2005, 29 did. “I’ve heard these rumors of international gangs moving to the Czech Republic, but the statistical figures don’t prove it,” Marešová said.

The statistics concluded that, while the country’s murder rate increased last year, the number of total crimes was lower than in 2005, from 344,060 to 336,446 — a trend that has been unfolding since the 1990s, which saw an explosion in crime following the fall of communism. Josef Mareš, who heads Prague’s criminal investigations office, said there wasn’t a significant change in the number of murders in the capital last year. In 2005, 37 murders occurred in Prague; in 2006, 38 did.

Marešová said there were other explanations besides organized crime behind the national murder figures. “One is that the 2005 figures were very low,” she said. “It was nice to see them like that, but the truth is they were very low.” She also cited two killing sprees that drove numbers up last year: Petr Zelenka, the nurse who killed eight patients in east Bohemia, and Viktor Kalivoda, the so-called forest murderer, who killed three.

The Prague Post 7 February 2007

“IT’S EASY TO ENTER THE ILLEGAL MARKET IN GERMANY”

Six people were found shot dead in a Chinese restaurant in the town of Sittensen in the early hours of Monday, but a two-year-old girl managed to survive. A seventh victim died on Tuesday in the hospital, dashing the police’s hopes of finding out more from him about the crime.

All of the victims were of Asian origin and apparently worked in the Lin Yue restaurant; two may have been the owners. Their bodies were found tied up in different rooms of the restaurant. Police are questioning diners who were in the restaurant earlier in the evening on Sunday.

The motive for the killings was unclear, police said. There was no evidence that the restaurant had been the target of blackmail and there was no history of Chinese mafia activity in Lower Saxony, the state where the restaurant is situated. Federal investigators are now working on the case. DW-WORLD.DE spoke with Klaus von Lampe at department of criminology at the Free University in Berlin about the case.

EU ICS 2005: THE BURDEN OF CRIME

The EU International Crime Survey (EU ICS) is a programme to look a householders’ experience with crime, policing, crime prevention and feelings of safety in a large number of countries. The 2005 report, which was presented at a press conference at the Residence Palace in Brussels on 5 February 2007 can be downloaded here (pdf).

GIFT CARDS NEW CURRENCY OF CRIME?

A story on gift cards as ‘virtual currency for bad actors’ ran in December 2006. The story was apparently based on a recent organized-crime threat assessment for Canada and the United States that identified gift cards and prepaid debit cards as one of the tools in the financial-crime kit of organised crime. The assessment was compiled by the RCMP, the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration..

The cards that are booming business in the US are according to RCMP officers now accepted as valid currency between crime syndicates. Instead of a suitcase of cash, operatives might show up for a drug deal with a fistful of gift cards.

“Let’s just say a kilo of cocaine is sold for $30,000 on the market. Well, you come in with 15 cards loaded with $2,000, and you pay for that commodity,” said Stephane Sirard, an intelligence analyst with the RCMP’s criminal-intelligence directorate.

For at least two reasons one can however question to which extent this is a genuine worry. Firstly, most cards are quite limited in their use, either by the maximum value or by the spending possibilities. For example, Visa issues gift cards with a maximum value of USD 500and the American Express gift cards can be used only at a selected number of retail stores.

Mastercard has indeed one card in the program the Vantage prepaid Mastercard that can be loaded up to USD 10.000 and can be used worldwide. However, and that is the second reason that a widespread use of these cards for criminal business can be questioned, look at the paper trail the card leaves.

In addition, this possibility of using bank and credit cards as payment tool for organised crime is nothing new. The anonymous ATM and credit card has been around for some time. But even such cards require quite some effort to launder the ill gained proceeds first before the funds can be transferred to the card.

The anonymous cards could very well be used for example to support small operational costs at home or abroad that need to stay ‘below the radar’. However, as means of payment in international transactions the question of trust becomes of importance as the funds on a card cannot as easily be checked as a suitcase full of dollars. All together a widespread use of gift cards or anonymous debit cards for international transactions by organised crime seems not very likely.

UK: POLICE STRUGGLING TO COPE WITH RISE OF CYBER-CRIME

Police cannot cope with the huge rise in cyber-crime, such as computer viruses, fraud and the online grooming of children, Scotland Yard has admitted. And the scale of the problem has become so large that not all allegations can be investigated.
Chief constables are lobbying for funding to set up a national “e-crime” squad to help deal with the growing number of offences, which are costing individuals and the country millions of pounds. The cost of identity theft to the UK economy alone is £1.7bn a year.

A report on e-crime by the Metropolitan Police, which deals with the majority of e-crime in the UK, says: “It is widely recognised that e-crime is the most rapidly expanding form of criminality, encompassing both new criminal offences in relation to computers (viruses and hacking etc.) and ‘old’ crimes (fraud, harassment etc.), committed using digital or computer technology. The MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] assessment is that specialist e-crime units can no longer cope with all e-crime.”

The report highlights a number of cases:
* A covert operation in which an investigator posing online as a young girl attracted 475 people keen to meet and have sex with her.
* An man who sent an “e-mail bomb” containing about five million e-mails to his former employer, causing the company’s e-mail server to collapse.
* Three men were arrested for allegedly being members of a virus-writing organised crime group. A 63-year-old man in Ipswich, a 28-year-old in Scotland, and a 19-year-old in Helsinki were arrested after a global attack on computers that would have allowed them to steal personal information.
The report, written by Detective inspector Charlie McMurdie, of the Metropolitan Police computer crime unit, concludes: “The ability of law enforcement to investigate all types of e-crime locally and globally must be ‘mainstreamed’ as an integral part of every investigation, whether it be specialist, or murder, robbery, extortion demands, identity theft or fraud. “Hackers and virus writers have evolved from largely enthusiastic amateur ‘criminals’ to financially motivated, organised global criminal enterprises. Prosecutions of virus writers and hackers in the UK have been infrequent up to now. However, the motivation of such offenders has now migrated from the curious adolescent to the profile of the financially motivated professional, often with organised crime links.”
The Association of Chief Police Officers is currently discussing the setting up of a new national e-crime unit.

The Independent 24 January 2007

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