The Straits Times (Singapore)
MAY 22 1997
Experts' group to be set up on Mafia-style organised crime
By R. Senthilnatha
THE move towards an international treaty to fight the rising
menace of Mafia-style organised crime is to get a boost when an
inter-governmental experts' group is established in the coming
The group will seek to bridge the existing differences, including
on the definition of the term "organised crime", among countries
on how best to deal with the problem, says Mr Dimitros Vlassis,
an official at the Vienna-based United Nations Crime Prevention
and Criminal Justice Division.
A resolution calling for the creation of the experts' group has
been prepared and only needs to be adopted by the UN General
Assembly at its meeting later this year, he says.
Given the concern countries have been expressing on the issue,
the group can then be formed and meet before the end of the
year, he says.
Poland, which has taken a number of initiatives on global action
against crime, has already submitted a draft international
convention but other proposals can be expected during the
group's meetings, Mr Vlassis says.
These moves come as worry about the activities of major crime
groups and their efforts to spread their wings, including investing
in legal sectors, has been increasing.
There are five major Mafia groups, two of them in Asia.
A UN report on organised crime says that the first, the Chinese
and Hongkong-based triads, earn US$200 billion (S$286 billion)
annually through extortion, prostitution and drug and migrant
smuggling. The liberalised economic zones in China's Fujian and
Guangdong provinces are favoured areas for triads wanting to
invest their profits.
The Yakuza of Japan is the second Mafia organisation in Asia.
The other three Mafia groups are: the well-known Italian Mafia
groups, Colombia's Cali cartel and the Russian Vory v Zakonye
and affiliated newcomers.
Since the end of the Cold War, the Russian syndicates have
expanded their activities and established a dominant position in
eastern and western Europe, controlling the prostitution sector
and bringing home an estimated 250,000 stolen cars annually.
Figures vary but a senior German police official claimed recently
that the volume of money organised crime groups dealt with in
1991 was a staggering US$5.6 trillion, almost half of it coming
from illicit trafficking in drugs.
Crime officials say detecting crime is becoming increasingly
difficult as the Mafia groups use modern technology to the
maximum and forge strategic alliances among themselves.
UN officials claim to know of contacts between different groups
-- for instance, Italian Mafia men tutoring their Russian
colleagues on money laundering methods at meetings in Prague or
And it would appear the Russian Mafia groups have learnt their
lesson well: In 1982 there were only four banks in the whole of the
Soviet Union. A recent report by the Russian Foreign and
Defence Policy Council says there are now more than 3,000
institutions specialising in laundering money earning through,
among others, the smuggling of nuclear material, extortion, drug
smuggling and prostitution.
While the crime groups are going high-tech and forgetting
national borders, crime-fighting is still old-fashioned and mostly
confined to national borders.
Such differences have also been surfacing during discussions on
the proposed treaty.
One major problem is that although the term "organised crime"
has become common, particularly in the West, there is still no
definition of it.
The Polish draft defines it as group activities of three or more
people with hierarchical links engaging in criminal activities.
Some countries, like Canada, do not want to have a definition. In
its report on organised crime to the UN, Canada says that the
problem of organised crime, including that of stolen vehicles, did
not exist a decade ago. Thus, it argues, a convention should not
be rigid in fixing a definition but should be flexible enough to
deal with problems that may arise in the coming years.
Another equally constraining problem is the question of
extradition. Many countries are willing to extradite nationals
from third countries to their own, or other countries, should they
be sought for their criminal activities, but not so when it comes to
extraditing their own nationals sought for crimes in third
How sensitive the issue of extraditing one's own nationals is
shown in the Polish draft. The clause dealing with that issue is
followed by a number of brackets -- which show changes
demanded by countries.
A number of countries, including from the West, have declared
that their legal systems do not allow for such extraditions.
Copyright © 1997 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.