Sunday, June 27, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Chinese Organized Crime Increasingly Active in Russia, Experts Say

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 27 – Chinese organized crime is playing an increasing role in the Russian Federation, not only among ethnic Chinese who are the traditional target of the Triad Society but also among Russian businesses and officials, especially in the Far East, according to academic experts and interior ministry officials
In the current issue of Moscow’s “Sobesednik,” Rimma Akhmirova says that the Triad, as the Chinese mafia is known, has found especially fertile ground in Russia now that there may be more than a million ethnic Chinese living there, often in tightly organized Chinatowns in major Russian cities (
Moscow interior ministry officials say that their information about the Triad is limited because it is almost impossible for the militia to penetrate this “very conspiratorial organization,” one in which “only ethnic Chinese” can become members and then “only on the recommendation of other members of the Triad.”
Nonetheless, both at central Russia and particularly in the Far East, there have been enough complaints about the Triad that officials and even academic experts are beginning to form an accurate picture of its operations. Indeed, Akhmirova reports, one Russian scholar will defend a doctoral dissertation on the subject later this year.
One reason that so little has been written about the subject in the past, the “Sobesednik” journalist says, is that most of the Triad’s victims are members of the tightly knit Chinese diaspora whose members prefer to keep to themselves, to send money home via their own channels, and to solve their problems without reference to the authorities.
Vitaly Nomokonov, the director of the Vladivostok Center for the Study of Organized Crime, says that that the Triad is playing a major role in cross-border transactions between the Russian Federation and China with much of the money ethnic Chinese earn in Russia going home to support the Chinese economy via its channels.
At present, he and other Russian specialists on the Triad say, there are three major Chinese mafia organizations operating in Russia: the Beijing, the Shanghai, and the Harbin groups. And these experts note that “with rare exceptions, the Triad does not leave any material traces” that would allow the militia to move against it.
Konstantin Poltoranin, a spokesman for the Federal Migration Service, says that “in the migration services of the world, there is [even] an expression: ‘Chinese do not die.’ Their deaths are nowhere registered. Simply a Chinese dies but his documents live and work for someone else.” That is happening in Russia as well.
Nonetheless, militia especially in Siberia and the Far East have brought some cases against Triad members, but in most instances, the Triad members have simply slipped across the border or been expelled for violations of the visa regime. And it is not clear that their colleagues are not continuing to operate.
Moreover, the Triad in the Far East is increasingly involved in stealing lumber and contraband of various kinds, including synthetic drugs, according to Nomokonov. And as the Triad moves into these sectors, its members are forming ties both with Russian criminal groups and seeking protection from Russian officials.
That was highlighted, the expert says, at a recent trial of Ernest Bakhshetsyan, a customs official, at which witnesses said that “the profit for only one group of contraband workers was as much as 500,000 US dollars a day,” and the income for such groups for the entire Far East equals four million US dollars a day.
Marat Fayzulin, a lawyer involved in these cases, told “Sobesednik” that some of this money is “feeding” more senior” Russian officials who are thus prepared to look the other way and allow groups like the Triad to continue to operate. Indeed, he suggested, some of these illicit funds may be reaching even to the level of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Whether this is true or not may not matter. On the one hand, reports like the one in “Sobesednik” will certainly feed the xenophobia of many Russians about immigrant workers from China and elsewhere. And on the other, such suggestions that Russian officials are profiting from such illegal actions will only further undermine public trust in the regime.

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