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Transnational activities of Chinese crime organizations

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Abstract

This study investigates the major pockets of activity of Chinese criminal groups from 2000–2003, throughout the world except for Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. The main geographical regions of such activity are Australia, Europe, Japan, Latin America, North America, Russia, South Africa, and Southeast Asia. The report notes the participation of such groups in all major types of crime, including trafficking of human beings and various commodities, financial crimes, extortion, gambling, prostitution, and violent crimes. For the purposes of this report, the term “Chinese” refers to individuals of purely Chinese ethnic origin living in any part of the world. The criminal groups described vary in size and degree of structure; they include syndicates, triads, gangs, and ad hoc combinations of organization members and non-members. Because of this variety, an increasing tendency toward ad hoc activity, and the lack of specificity in many open sources, the term “group” is used when a criminal activity is not attributed to a specific type of organization. The report's sources are several recent monographs, journal articles on various aspects of such crime in the geographical regions where it occurs, and Internet reports by journalists and law enforcement agencies. Some sources published prior to the time period covered by the report have been used to provide background and establish long-term trends.
TRANSNATIONAL ACTIVITIES OF CHINESE
CRIME ORGANIZATIONS
A Report Prepared by the Federal Research Division,
Library of Congress
under an Interagency Agreement with the
Crime and Narcotics Center,
Directorate of Central Intelligence
April 2003
Authors: LaVerle B. Berry
Glenn E. Curtis
Seth L. Elan
Rexford A. Hudson
Nina A. Kollars
Project Manager: Glenn E. Curtis
Federal Research Division
Library of Congress
Washington, D.C. 20540
4840
Tel: 202
707
3900
Fax: 202
707
3920
E-Mail: frds@loc.gov
Homepage: http://loc.gov/rr/frd/
55 Years of Service to the Federal Government
1948 – 2003
Library of Congress – Federal Research Division Transnational Chinese Crime
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PREFACE
This study investigates the major pockets of activity of Chinese criminal groups from
2000–2003, throughout the world except for mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
The main geographical regions of such activity are Australia, Europe, Japan, Latin America,
North America, Russia, South Africa, and Southeast Asia. The report notes the participation of
such groups in all major types of crime, including trafficking of human beings and various
commodities, financial crimes, extortion, gambling, prostitution, and violent crimes. For the
purposes of this report, the term “Chinese” refers to individuals of purely Chinese ethnic origin
living in any part of the world. The criminal groups described vary in size and degree of
structure; they include syndicates, triads, gangs, and ad hoc combinations of organization
members and non-members. Because of this variety, an increasing tendency toward ad hoc
activity, and the lack of specificity in many open sources, the term “group” is used when a
criminal activity is not attributed to a specific type of organization. The report’s sources are
several recent monographs, journal articles on various aspects of such crime in the geographical
regions where it occurs, and Internet reports by journalists and law enforcement agencies. Some
sources published prior to the time period covered by the report have been used to provide
background and establish long-term trends.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
PREFACE........................................................................................................................................ i
KEY JUDGMENTS.........................................................................................................................1
INTRODUCTION ...........................................................................................................................2
AUSTRALIA...................................................................................................................................4
EUROPE..........................................................................................................................................8
Eastern Europe...........................................................................................................................8
Western Europe..........................................................................................................................9
Belgium and the Netherlands.............................................................................................10
France................................................................................................................................11
Germany.............................................................................................................................13
Great Britain and Ireland..................................................................................................14
Italy....................................................................................................................................16
Spain ..................................................................................................................................18
JAPAN ...........................................................................................................................................19
LATIN AMERICA ........................................................................................................................20
Central America.......................................................................................................................20
South America .........................................................................................................................21
NORTH AMERICA ......................................................................................................................23
Canada......................................................................................................................................23
United States ............................................................................................................................25
RUSSIA .........................................................................................................................................30
SOUTH AFRICA...........................................................................................................................35
SOUTHEAST ASIA......................................................................................................................37
Burma, Cambodia, and Laos....................................................................................................37
Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore ........................................................................................39
Philippines................................................................................................................................42
Thailand ...................................................................................................................................44
CONCLUSION..............................................................................................................................47
BIBLIOGRAPHY..........................................................................................................................49
APPENDIX....................................................................................................................................61
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KEY JUDGMENTS
Chinese crime organizations outside China and Taiwan are varied in size and flexible in
structure, retaining some traditional triad and tong structures but adapting readily to
conditions in host countries.
Chinese crime organizations are found in most world population centers having
substantial ethnic Chinese populations.
In most cases, the starting point of Chinese crime is extortion and protection practiced
against indigenous Chinese populations; subsequently, expansion into other crimes and
into the general population often occurs.
Chinese groups adjust pragmatically to conditions in a country; for example, law
enforcement in France has forced a movement away from narcotics trafficking toward
trafficking in humans.
Several large criminal groups have established footholds in more than one country;
numerous smaller groups are independent or allied with the large groups in a particular
country.
In some countries, Chinese groups have formed pragmatic, temporary alliances with
other ethnic criminal groups.
Chinese organized crime has established a significant foothold in Australian cities, and
Australian authorities consider it a serious law enforcement problem.
Chinese trafficking groups still use routes that were established through Eastern Europe
in the corrupt late communist era.
“Snakehead” groups, which move illegal Chinese migrants to Western Europe and North
America using networks of specialized accomplices in local communities, are an active
and persistent feature of Chinese crime in many countries.
In recent years, Chinese criminal activity in Japan has increased noticeably, often in
cooperation with indigenous groups.
Canada has become an important site for Chinese narcotics trafficking and financial
crimes.
In the United States, Chinese groups established their initial footholds on the West Coast
and in New York City; from there they have spread to other large metropolitan areas, and
their activities have diversified.
Chinese criminal activity in Russia has been concentrated in Moscow and the Russian Far
East, where numerous forms of trafficking have proliferated.
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Several countries of Southeast Asia are the sites of narcotics and human trafficking,
money laundering, and counterfeiting of electronic products.
INTRODUCTION
In the past decade, the activities of Chinese criminal groups have caused increasing alarm
among law enforcement officials in Australia, Japan, North America, Russia, South Africa,
Southeast Asia, and Western Europe. Exhibiting substantial flexibility and pragmatism, such
groups have expanded their territory and their range of activities to take advantage of conditions
and markets in host countries. Chinese groups around the world are active in trafficking of
narcotics, arms, people, and endangered animals and plants; financial fraud; software piracy;
prostitution; gambling; loan sharking; robbery; and high-tech theft.1 The two most widespread
and profitable criminal activities are trafficking narcotics and people.
Chinese criminal groups are transnational in the most literal sense. Their members may
have been born in the People’s Republic of China (which now includes Hong Kong and Macau),
Taiwan, or one of many overseas Chinese communities located throughout the world. Émigré
members have migrated widely without losing touch with their home base. International crime
expert Roger Faligot says of the Teochow, which from its base in Guangdong Province has
become one of the most powerful crime groups in Europe: “Organized on the basis of tight links
and featuring great loyalty, all the Teochow in the world are connected today by a dialect and a
common origin from seven villages near the city of Swatow [Shantou].”2
Despite this context of organizational loyalty, even in today’s Hong Kong Chinese
transnational crime enterprises show a strong tendency toward overlapping membership and
pragmatic, ad hoc cooperation that defies categorization of the participants. Transnational
trafficking expert Jennifer Bolz reports that the major triads (see below and Appendix) of Hong
Kong all have members from the Big Circle, which is a large, loose triad-like crime group.3 In
1 Mike Brunker, “Asian Gangs Are Brothers in Crime,” MSNBC online report, August 31, 1999,
http://www.msnbc.com/news/165145.asp?cp1=1.
2 Roger Faligot, Le Mafia Chinoise en Europe [The Chinese Mafia in Europe] (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 2001), 154.
3 Jennifer Bolz, “Chinese Organized Crime and Illegal Alien Trafficking: Humans as a Commodity,” Asian Affairs
22, no. 3 (Fall 1995), http://www.csuohio.edu/polisci/courses/PSC422/Chinesecrime.htm.
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the words of Hong Kong police superintendant Bob Youhill, “Being a Triad member is
incidental to carrying out the crime,” and “It’s all negotiable. The dollar is their only loyalty.”4
The triad, a form of secret society that first appeared in the seventeenth century in
southern China in opposition to emperors of the Qing Dynasty, is the organizational form most
often associated with Chinese organized crime.5 In the twentieth century, after centuries of
existence as guilds and benevolent societies, the triads lost their political raison d’etre when the
Manchu Empire ended in 1911. Some triads then turned to narcotics trafficking, extortion,
gambling, and loan sharking. The Vietnam War brought significant overseas expansion of the
groups’ narcotics activities.6 Hong Kong now is the center of triad activity in China, although
triad membership there is a criminal offense.7 As many as 57 triads, varying greatly in size, have
been identified in Hong Kong—although only 15 to 20 of those organizations are currently
involved in criminal activity.8
Although the triad is a hierarchical organization with fixed rituals and division of labor,
the upper levels function more as resolvers of disputes and sources of international prestige and
financing than as direct managers of criminal activity. Compared with the strict hierarchical
structure of Italian crime groups, for example, the triads are “loose affiliations in the extreme,”
offering full autonomy to members in their selection of criminal activities.9 Top individuals in
the triad structure often have established reputations as legitimate businessmen.10 All
transnational Chinese crime groups do not owe their membership or their structure to the triad
model. Narcotics syndicates, for example, may include both members and non-members of a
triad. In contrast to the triads, the syndicates tend to be pragmatic assemblages that dissipate and
reconfigure over time, making detection more difficult.11
4 Diane Stormont, “Hong Kong’s Secret Triad Societies Spread Their Wings,” Reuters report, November 6, 1994,
http://www.stormont.net/triads.htm.
5 The term triad sometimes is applied to groups that do not have the traditional background described here. An
example is the Big Circle group, whose organization and activities resemble those of the conventional triads but
whose origin, as described below, is quite different.
6 Howard Abadinsky, Organized Crime (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1997), 274–75.
7 “An Introduction to the Triads,” Illuminated Lantern report, http://www.illuminatedlantern.com/triads/page1.htm.
8 Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “Beneath the Dragon’s Shadow: Canadian Investigators Face Off with Hong
Kong Triads,” http://www.rcmp-learning.org/docs/ecdd0062.htm.
9 “An Introduction to the Triads.”
10 Ning-Ning Mahlmann, “Chinese Criminal Enterprises from Asian Criminal Enterprise Program Overview: A
Study of Current FBI Asian Criminal Enterprise Investigations in the United States” (U.S. Department of State
International Information Program), http://usinfo.state.gov/regional/ea/chinaaliens/ningning.htm.
11 Abadinsky, 277.
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Other types of ethnic Chinese criminal groups also have appeared in the geographical
areas under study here. One such type, the Taiwanese organized gang, originated in Taiwan in
the 1950s and adopted some triad-like rituals and structure. By the 1980s, the Taiwanese gangs
had diversified significantly in activity and spread to other parts of the world. Characterized by
one crime expert as “the most powerful and important ethnic group in transnational Chinese
organized crime,” Taiwan-based groups are active in transnational trafficking of arms, narcotics,
and people, as well as financial crimes.12 The two largest such groups are United Bamboo and
the Four Seas, both of which are present in the United States.
Economic reforms and openings to the West since the 1980s encouraged criminal groups
based in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan to expand into the southern China provinces of
Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejian, and Yunnan. Having established narcotics connections in the
Golden Triangle adjacent to Yunnan Province and a strong demand for migrant trafficking in
Fujian and Zhejian provinces, these groups now constitute a third source of transnational Chinese
crime.13
AUSTRALIA
Australia’s proximity to Southeast Asia opens it to the full range of criminal activities in
which Chinese organized gangs and triads engage. Growing trends in human trafficking, drug
smuggling, and credit-card fraud have prompted the Australian government to direct significant
resources to halting the growing presence of Asian organized crime in the region through the
Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC).14 In addition, Australia is cooperating with regional
forums such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to combat the problem
multilaterally.15
The widespread presence of Chinese criminal networks began in the 1970’s, when
Singapore and Malaysia enacted a series of anti-crime laws at the same time as significant
political changes abolished the White Australia policy that had limited immigration to Australia
12 Willard Myers, “The Emerging Threat of Transnational Organized Crime from the East,” Crime, Law and Social
Change 24 (1994): 195, cited in Ko-Lin Chin, Sheldon Zhang, and Robert J. Kelly, “Transnational Chinese
Organized Crime Activities: Patterns and Emerging Trends,” Transnational Organized Crime 4, nos. 3–4 (2002):
128.
13 Chin, Zhang, and Kelly, 129–30.
14 Australian Institute for Criminology, http://www.aic.gov.au/institute.
15 Alexander Downer, statement at 31st ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference, July 28, 1998,
http://www.aseansec.org/4180.htm.
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from Asia. The combination of those events began an exodus of ethnic Chinese to Australia that
has continued, with some variations, through the 1990s and until the present.16 In 2000 the
Australian Bureau of Statistics reported the legal immigration of 36,000 Chinese and the legal
presence of 168,000 persons of Chinese birth. The latter figure is an increase of 100 percent
since 1991 and an increase of 500 percent since 1980.17 Australia’s Chinese population, hence
the activity of Chinese criminal groups, is concentrated in the major urban centers of New South
Wales and Victoria.18
The structure and prominence of specific Chinese criminal groups in Australia is not
clearly established; Australian reports generally indicate criminal activities under the vague title
of “Asian gangs,” or “Asian crime.” This imprecision is a result of the fact that Chinese
organized crime remains relatively new to the continent and still is concentrated in Sydney and
other major cities. A second reason is the high degree of cooperation shown between Chinese
criminals and other criminal groups operating in Australia and elsewhere, and the lack of clear
hierarchical structures generally characteristic of triad and gang activity.19 For example,
although the main groups responsible for heroin trafficking in Australia are the 14K, Sun Yee
On, Wo Hop To, and Wo Shen Yee triads, Chinese organizations are utilizing Vietnamese gang
members (some of whom are descended from Chinese who migrated to Vietnam) to sell
processed heroin from Thailand in Sydney. In Melbourne, Vietnamese and Romanian
organizations vie for the role of primary distributor of heroin brought into the country by
Chinese traffickers.20 Australian authorities also have reported possible cooperation between
Italian and Chinese organized crime groups.21
Heroin trafficked from the Golden Triangle, also known as “China White,” accounts for
an estimated 80 percent of the heroin marketed in Australia. Although the primary export point
16 Bertil Lintner, Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of Asia (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002), 318.
17 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Year Book Australia 2002, http://www.abs.gov.au.
18 “The China-Born Community Historical Background,” http://huaren.org/diaspora/oceania/australia/id/051201-
01.html.
19 Rebecca Tailby, “Organised Crime and People Smuggling/Trafficking to Australia,” Trends & Issues in Crime
and Criminal Justice 208 (May 2000):1, www.aic.gov.au.
20 Lachlan Colquhoun, “Asian Underworld in Australia,” Bangkok Asia Times [Bangkok], February 25, 1997 (FBIS
Document FTS19970625002098).
21 Australia, Parliament, Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, “Asian Organised Crime in Australia,”
1995.
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for these drugs is Thailand, the main traffickers are Chinese syndicates, composed of both
émigré and mainland Chinese.22
The transport of narcotics generally is combined with trafficking in humans, either as a
cost-effective method of utilizing transport, or as an employment scheme for the use of illegal
immigrants as employees in the narcotics distribution system. According to Australian
criminologist Rebecca Tailby, Australia is a desirable destination for illegal migrants from Asia
because of its reputation as a democratic society with a high, easily attainable standard of living
and as a tolerant, multicultural society; because of existing ethnic communities that act as
support systems; and because Australia’s economy survived well the economic downturn that
damaged most of the economies of the Pacific rim. The 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney
enhanced Australia’s international image for both legal and illegal trade.23
Despite the lack of a clearly structured hierarchy, the trafficking of narcotics and humans
from Southeast Asia into Australia is a very sophisticated operation that relies on flexible and
immediately responsive networks with resources in enforcement monitoring.24 The trafficking
route for heroin destined for Australia includes mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and
Bangkok, using both maritime and air transport.25
Human trafficking into Australia is conducted by so-called snakehead groups by sea and
air. Maritime routes bring more illegal immigrants and workers because they are more flexible
and because ports of entry can be changed to avoid detection. Trafficking
by air is a more complicated process that reportedly relies upon the purchase of forged and
legitimate Taiwanese passports for entry into Australia.26 Prior to the 2000 Olympic Games in
Sydney, migrant trafficking increased to accommodate increased employment opportunities. In
the first quarter of 1999, authorities reported 31 attempted cases of illegal immigration involving
more than 700 ethnic Chinese.
Credit-card fraud recently has been identified as a source of income for organized crime
groups in Australia. Working mainly with forged counterfeit cards manufactured in Hong Kong,
22 Philip Cornford, “Heroin in Australia,” Sydney Morning Herald [Sydney], April 8, 1999, www.smh.com.au.
23 Rebecca Tailby, “People Smuggling: An Australian Perspective” (paper presented at the Australian Federal Police
College, June 28, 2000), 2.
24 Tailby, “Organised Crime and People Smuggling/Trafficking to Australia,” 3.
25 John McFarlane, “Transnational Crime and Illegal Immigration in the Asia-Pacific Region: Background,
Prospects and Countermeasures” (Australian National University, Strategic Defence Studies Centre report, July
1999).
26 Tailby, “Organised Crime and People Smuggling/Trafficking to Australia,” 4.
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Chinese crime groups are suspected of selling these cards on the Australian market, although few
reports indicate widespread use in Australia.27 A new method of credit-card fraud has been
identified as “skimming,” which utilizes hand-held devices capable of recording data on a user’s
card for later replication on a new card. The card then is sold and used internationally or within
Australia. Although credit companies are currently working on technologies that will detect a
duplicated magnetic strip on the back of a credit card, participation by employees of legitimate
companies in the skimming process has expanded the scope of the problem.28
In addition to international trafficking and fraud, Chinese organizations have set up
protection schemes in ethnic Chinese areas in major cities. The expansion of Chinese
communities in Australian cities has contributed to a rise in extortion and violent crimes related
to turf wars. In June of 2002, members of the Sing Wa triad engaged in a spree of destruction in
Chinese restaurants of Sydney, designed to discourage the competing gang Big Circle from
expanding its extortion activities in Chinatown.29 These crimes usually are limited to Chinese
communities, where both illegal and legal Chinese immigrants fear reprisal if they provide
information to authorities.30
Money laundering has increased in conjunction with the expansion of drug trafficking
and human smuggling into Australia. The Australian Federal Police estimate that between
US$1.7 million and US$6.6 million per year is laundered from heroin profits alone.31 Laundering
operations increasingly utilize high-speed modem communications for the transfer of funds into
and out of Australia’s banks. In addition to the utilization of the banking system, launderers use
couriers to carry bulk cash, and they move money through international accounts held under a
family name.32
Chinese triads and gangs also are present in other money-making operations in Australia,
and more recently New Zealand. For example, Chinese criminals now have permeated the black
market in exports of abalone shell and rock lobster.33 Because of Australia’s abundance of
27 Russell G. Smith, “Plastic Card Fraud,” Australian Institute of Criminology, Trends and Issue 71 (July 1997): 2.
28 Anthony Hughes, “Don’t Let Credit Card Skimmers Swipe Your Card,” The Sydney Morning Herald [Sydney],
November 13, 2002, http://www.smh.co.au.
29 Kathy Marks, “Sydney Triads Bring Terror to Restaurants,” The Independent [Sydney], June 23, 2002,
http://www.news.independent.co.uk.
30 Grant Holloway, “Triad Turf War in Sydney's Chinatown,” CNN. Asia, June 19, 2002, http://www.cnn.com.
31 G. R. Owens, “Asset Confiscation: A New South Wales Overview,” New South Wales Police, 2002.
32 G. R. Owens.
33 “Five Paua Smugglers Jailed,” The Dominion Post [Wellington], December 12, 2002, A3.
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marine wildlife, Chinese organizations also reportedly have bought out local commercial
fishermen in a bid to take over the lucrative live coral trout trade to Hong Kong.34
EUROPE
Eastern Europe
Before 1990 Chinese snakehead groups established people-trafficking routes through
eastern Europe by taking advantage of official corruption in the communist regimes of critical
countries. Kiev became a key transit point from which “tens of thousands” of Chinese have
moved into Slovakia and Moldova, and thence to Hungary, Romania, and the Czech Republic. In
recent years, however, local authorities have offered more resistance because international
pressure is stronger and because indigenous criminal groups demand elimination of their Asiatic
competition. Post-communist Romania became an important staging ground for Chinese human
traffickers, who often came into violent conflict with indigenous gangs.35
In 1997 a Romanian security official estimated that 300 Chinese groups were active in
Romania, taking advantage of legislative loopholes to establish trafficking routes into Hungary.36
In the late 1990s, the Chinese population of Hungary was estimated at 30,000, and the cities of
Budapest and Szeged were strongholds of Chinese triads. At that point, Chinese groups in
Budapest were very active in trafficking cigarettes, narcotics, adulterated alcohol, and migrants.
The establishment in Budapest of an office of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
substantially reduced this activity, however. Under the pro-mafia policies of Serbian President
Slobodan Milošević and his powerful wife, Mira Marković, Chinese triads and snakehead gangs
established new strongholds in Serbia. A Chinese population estimated at 100,000 concentrated
in Belgrade, which became a new transit point for illegal migrants arriving on direct flights from
Beijing. From Belgrade, snakeheads moved their people to Vienna via Vojvodina and Hungary,
to Italy via Montenegro, and to Austria and Italy via Zagreb.37 Although Milošević was
overthrown in late 2000, Serbian authorities have had difficulty dismantling the various mafia
organizations with which Serbia became entangled in the 1990s.
34 Megan Saunders, “Triads Sink Hooks into Reef Fish,” The Australian [Sydney], February 17, 2003, 5.
35 Faligot, 305–6.
36 Faligot, 306.
37 Faligot, 306–7.
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Western Europe
In Western Europe, as in many other parts of the world, trafficking in illegal migrants by
Chinese criminal groups depends on two major factors: the presence of large Chinese émigré
populations, which provide cover and a ready source of profits through protection rackets, and
the cooperation (formal or informal) of indigenous criminal organizations. Trafficking in people
to Western Europe is facilitated by the perceived desire of Chinese to find a better life on that
continent. That ongoing demand assures Chinese criminal groups a reliable supply of laborers
and contributors to criminal activities.38 Within Chinese communities, legitimate enterprises such
as restaurants and shops are the facades behind which criminal activity is concealed.39 However,
like other forms of transnational crime, Chinese criminal organizations are highly pragmatic:
they constantly change their routes and connections according to ambient conditions. A much-
used asset is the institution of “flying money,” an informal exchange system invented in the
seventh century and serving today as a means of international money laundering transactions that
leave no conventional trace.40
Because large ethnic Chinese populations and indigenous organizations with which to
ally are available in virtually every country in Western Europe, that continent plays an active role
in the trafficking of people, at least providing transit points along the route from East to West.41
Document forgery, an indispensable part of human trafficking, is aided by the inability of many
westerners to differentiate the features of Asian faces.42 Mainly under the stimulation of
membership in West European international organizations, former members of the Warsaw Pact
alliance such as the Czech Republic and Hungary have taken steps that have substantially shrunk
the trafficking routes passing through their countries. West European countries such as France
and the United Kingdom have established special units in their domestic security agencies to deal
with Asian or Chinese crime. Such special attention has discouraged some forms of criminal
activity in those countries, although Chinese groups have tended to change the form of their
38 Domenico Di Petrillo, “The Chinese Mafia” (report to Falcon One European Seminar on Organized Crime, April
27, 1995), http://www.sisde.it/Sito/Supplemento.nsf/ServNavig/26.
39 Faligot, 158.
40 Faligot, 155.
41 Faligot, 299.
42 Faligot, 137.
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activity rather than withdrawing from the country.43 The reversion of Hong Kong to the People’s
Republic of China brought another pragmatic reaction: some triad groups moved their operations
from Hong Kong to other cities with large Asian populations. The chief destinations of such
moves were Budapest, Manchester, Perth, San Francisco, Vancouver (British Columbia), and
Vienna.44
Belgium and the Netherlands
Belgium and the Netherlands began to experience increased Chinese immigration in the
1990s. Netherlands police authorities believe that the 14K triad has had full control of heroin
importation into the Benelux countries since 1987. The line established by the 14K is a direct
connection with Hong Kong via Bangkok, the chief transit point. In the Netherlands, the 14K is
divided into seven- to ten-person cells (mainly in Amsterdam) that function as relay posts for
moving heroin elsewhere in Europe and make domestic sales. However, authorities believe that
Belgium now plays an equally important role; heroin laboratories that were discovered in the
Netherlands have been reassembled in Flanders, with strong bases in Brussels and Antwerp. A
foothold in Belgium also has brought the narcotics traffickers closer to the money-laundering
banks of Luxembourg.45
In 1998 the chief of Belgium’s security agency described Chinese criminal organizations
in Belgium: “They include several hundred Asiatics and have a strong familial characteristic.
Their activities are very diverse, also including [besides narcotics] gambling and illegal
workshops. They also are developing money laundering, both small-scale (restaurants, etc.) and
large-scale such as real estate and even industrial projects.”46 For example, the 14K controls
illegal gambling casinos in Antwerp. Belgium and the Netherlands form two corners of a
triangular narcotics route of the 14K triad; the third corner is Paris.47
Besides the 14K, six Chinese triads and two other major criminal groups have been
documented as active in the Benelux countries: the Ah Kong, the Luen group, the Red Sun
43 For example, in the 1990s harsh penalties for drug dealing in France caused Chinese groups to turn to migrant
trafficking, prostitution, and protection rackets. See Faligot, 202.
44 Antonio Nicaso, “The Chinese Triads Are Digging Their Claws into Canadian Businesses,” Tandem Online,
March 23–March 30, 2003, http://www.tandemnews.com/viewstory.php?storyid=99.
45 Faligot, 199–200.
46 Bart Van Lijsebeth in La Dernière Heure [Brussels], January 30, 1998, quoted in Faligot, 201.
47 Faligot, 200–201.
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group, the Sun Yee On, the Wo On Lok, and the Wo Shing Wo triads and the Big Circle and
United Bamboo group. The groups most active in Belgium are the 14K (in Brussels and
Antwerp), the Wo Shing Wo (in Antwerp), and the Ah Kong (in Brussels). All of these groups
are connected with transit ports for migrants in London and Germany as well as in China.
Migrant trafficking routes with Belgium as their final destination lead through Moscow and
Eastern Europe and through Gambia (by air, using counterfeit documents furnished by the
Nigerian mafia).48
The Benelux countries have several second- and third-generation Cantonese-speaking
Chinese communities. In Belgium, which has 23,000 legal Chinese residents, illegal migrants
from Hong Kong and Guangdong have settled mainly in the Flanders region. Increasing numbers
of migrants from Zhejiang and Fujian are settling in the francophone provinces of Belgium.49
France
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 200,000 Chinese live
in France legally; the magnitude of the accompanying illegal population can only be speculated
but surely is large. France’s General Intelligence Agency (Renseignements Généraux) estimated
in 2000 that 80,000 illegal Chinese immigrants were living in the Île de France, the region that
includes Paris, and that the number is growing constantly. About 90 percent of the Chinese
diaspora in France has arrived (directly, or indirectly through Southeast Asia) from the south
central Chinese provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, and Hunan. Although that population is divided
by dialect, it has strong cultural unity as it relates to its foreign ambience.50 An indication of the
seriousness of the problem in France is that in October 2002 the focus of the first meeting
between the interior ministers of China and France in 38 years was reduction of narcotics
trafficking, money laundering, and illegal immigration from China to France.51
In 2000, one major crime group from the Chinese mainland, the Big Circle, and five
major Chinese triads were present in France. The triads are the Ah Kong, the 14K, the Red Sun,
48 “Quelques Images du Phénomène de la Traite des Êtres Humains” [Some Descriptions of the Phenomenon of
Trafficking in Humans], http://www.antiracisme.be/fr/rapports/traite/2001/01b-traite01.pdf.
49 “Quelques Images du Phénomène de la Traite des Êtres Humains.”
50 Faligot, 108–9.
51 “Paris Hosts First Meeting of French, Chinese Interior Ministers since 1964,” Agence France Presse, October 22,
2002 (FBIS Document EUP20021022000299).
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the Sun Yee On, and the Wo Shing Wo.52 Worldwide, the largest of these is the Sun Yee On,
which has an estimated 56,000 members, and the second-largest is 14K, with about 20,000
members.53 Of the groups, the 14K, Sun Ye On, and Wo Shin Wo are based in Guangdong
Province, and the Big Circle has several bases in mainland China.
In Paris, Chinese merchants make periodic payments of US$500 to US$2,500 in “tea
money” to buy protection from gangs. Some gangs practicing this form of extortion are known to
be operated by higher-level mafia officials with impeccable credentials as legitimate
businessmen.54 A group of immigrants known as the Wenzhou originate in that city or its
environs in Zhejiang Province and now number about 80,000 in France. Wenzhou gangs are
active in extorting money from Chinese merchants from the same group in the Belleville section
of northeast Paris, where gangs have waged violent turf battles.55 Similar protection rackets
operate in Paris’s Chinatown, in the 13th Arondissement (where the dominant group is the
Teochew, from southeastern Guangdong Province), and in the suburbs of Paris, but gang
competition in those areas is not as violent. Illegal Wenzhou migrants are known to pass through
Belleville on a route run by the international Red Sun group.56
After the murder of two Chinese godfathers by rival gangs in Belleville in 1997, control
of the local extortion business and the trafficking of illegal migrants went through a chaotic
period. By 2000, the main activities of organized Chinese criminal groups in Paris were illegal
labor and the traffic in illegal workers, illegal gambling and prostitution, kidnapping for ransom,
armed robbery, and extortion. All these crimes often are accompanied by violence. However, in
recent years the Chinese population has departed somewhat from its traditional reticence to
report crime to the police.57
By the late 1990s, French authorities were able to substantially limit narcotics trafficking
by the 14K organization and others, causing many criminal groups to seek less risky forms of
illegal activity. However, some trafficking groups have resumed their activity. In 2000 some
Chinese groups began using radio control along their heroin trafficking routes, which originate in
the Golden Triangle and are run by Albanians and Turks. British investigators have alleged that
52 Faligot, 10.
53 Faligot, 345.
54 Faligot, 120.
55 Faligot, 113.
56 Faligot, 113, 124.
57 Faligot, 124–25.
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opium from Afghanistan also has appeared along these routes. In 2000 Chinese traffickers also
resumed heroin shipments from Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore to France, using
Australian, U.S., and European mules moving along routes organized by the Chinese or by
Nigerians.58
Chinese groups also use French financial institutions to launder illegal profits. The
receipts from criminal activities are collected in restaurants and stores, from which they pass to a
French bank for laundering. The “clean” money then is transferred from France to China, where
it funds future trafficking of migrants, women for the sex trade, and narcotics.59 As a ritual of the
annual Chinese New Year’s festival, hundreds of small protection payments are offered; because
the Banque de France has no requirement to justify the source of a deposit smaller than
US$8,00060 and the number of such smaller deposits is not limited, this money is effectively
laundered as soon as it is deposited. In 2000 an investigation revealed that two Chinese money-
changing offices had laundered an estimated US$200 million over a period of three years.61
Germany
With the assistance of local Chinese criminal groups, Germany is a transit country for
illegal Chinese migrants moving from Moscow to France, Spain, and Italy. Those with forged
visas move through official border crossings, while those without use back trails.62 Other illegal
migrants arrive by air from the Czech Republic. Germany is a reunion point for groups who then
move by automobile or railway to Florence via Paris.63 German authorities reported that the Wan
Kuok-koi, a powerful group in Macau with a branch in Germany, had organized the German
phase of the operation that resulted in the deaths of illegal migrants at Dover in June 2000. It is
known that the 14K triad provided some of its narcotics trafficking routes to the planners of this
people trafficking route, even cooperating with its usual enemies in the Big Circle organization.64
In Berlin and other German cities, Chinese trafficking organizations cooperate with their
Vietnamese counterparts. These cooperative ventures move large amounts of luxury automobiles
58 Faligot, 202.
59 Faligot, 347.
60 In 2000 the limit was 50,000 francs, approximately US$8,000.
61 Faligot, 148–50.
62 Faligot, 142.
63 Faligot, 137.
64 Faligot, 309–10.
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(from Europe to Vietnam) and counterfeit cigarettes (from China to Great Britain). Although
heated rivalries have developed between Vietnamese and Chinese groups, the large number of
ethnic Chinese in the Vietnamese gangs has facilitated cooperation.65
Great Britain and Ireland
In 1995 an estimated 156,000 ethnic Chinese were living in Great Britain. Of that
number, one-third were in London and significant numbers were in Manchester, Liverpool,
Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The number has increased significantly since that time
because of very active migrant trafficking by Chinese groups. Police have estimated that 500 to
600 triad members constitute the core of Chinese criminal activity in Great Britain, but that
figure is likely to be too low. Four major groups are active in London: three branches of the 14K,
the Big Circle, the Chu Lien Pang (based in Taiwan), and the Shui Fong. The Shui Fong is also
active in Southampton, Glasgow, Dublin, and Belfast.66
The Big Circle threatened the profits of the other groups, which are more traditional
triads, at many points in Europe, including Great Britain. A fourth triad, the Wo Shing Wo, is
active in Manchester, Portsmouth, Dublin, Cork, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Glasgow. Triads
gained a firm foothold in Ireland in the 1980s, when large numbers of Chinese restaurants
opened in Cork and Dublin.67 In the 1990s, British and Irish police gained greater cooperation
from Chinese communities because of successful raids and the desire of wealthy Chinese to
disassociate themselves from the criminal elements.
As many as ten gangs may be active in people trafficking from China across Europe to
Great Britain.68 The seriousness of this activity was emphasized in June 2000, when more than
50 Chinese illegal migrants were found dead in a shipping container at the English Channel port
of Dover. At that time, British police estimated that total illegal migrant traffic across the
Channel had increased by 500 percent in the last half of the 1990s and that more than 600 illegal
Chinese migrants were entering the United Kingdom every month. Chinese migrants, who pay as
much as US$22,000 to the “snakehead” organizers of their trek, usually pass overland through
65 Faligot, 310.
66 Faligot, 92–94.
67 Faligot, 94–95.
68 Emma Batha, “Chinese Gangs’ Cruel Trade,” BBC News Online, April 2, 2001,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/world/asia-pacific/797489.stm.
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Russia and Eastern Europe. After as much as four months of travel, they move across the channel
in container trucks. After arriving in the United Kingdom, they must pay off their debts by
prostitution or forced labor that may continue for several years. In 1997 Britain’s National
Criminal Intelligence Service reported that Chinese and Russian gangs were cooperating in
moving illegal Chinese migrants to Great Britain via Russia.69 Infiltration of snakehead gangs
has been hindered by a lack of Chinese speakers in the police.70
In London’s Chinatown, Chinese merchants and restauranteurs pay between 200 and 500
pounds sterling per week (about US$125 to US$300) in protection to local criminal
organizations. Failure to pay results in property damage or large-scale disruption of a restaurant
at busy times. Violence against family members is the next step for recalcitrant clients.
Competition among gangs for this protection business often escalates to violence as well.
Chinese groups also run prostitution operations in the West End of London, employing primarily
Malaysian and Thai women. In the late 1980s, Chinese triads began overseeing distribution in
Great Britain of heroin from Hong Kong and of a wide variety of counterfeit goods (perfumes,
whiskey, art objects, and designer clothes) from Southeast Asia.71 Although stiff penalties for
narcotics trafficking have caused a shift from narcotics to people trafficking, as of 2000 the 14K
and Wo Shing Wo triads still shared the British narcotics market with trafficking organizations
based in from Turkey, Kosovo, and Colombia.72
Chinese groups in Great Britain are involved in other forms of illegal activity. In 1995
British police dismantled a triad-run operation that was selling medicinal substances derived
from endangered animals to customers in Asia. Animal protection groups have criticized Great
Britain for inadequate laws that have made the country a center for the trade in illegal animal
parts by Chinese groups.73 In recent years, triad gangs in Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow,
and London have waged a struggle to control stores selling pirated videos originating in China.
The triads involved are the 14K, the Wo On Lok, the Sun Yee On, and the Wo Shing Wo. As
many as 5,000 copies of an original video cassette and an unlimited number of DVD copies can
69 Faligot, 296.
70 “The Last Frontier (Illegal Immigration into Britain),” The Economist [London], June 24, 2000, 63.
71 Faligot, 96.
72 Batha and “More Minder than Hollywood: Who Runs the Drug Business?” The Economist [London], January 13,
2001, 53.
73 “Animal Parts Trafficking Rife in Britain, Says WWF,” Reuters, May 9, 2002, http://www.enn.com.
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be made before quality is lost. Videos of Chinese television programs also are sold through urban
outlets in the major cities.74
Italy
According to Faligot, the substantial growth in power of Chinese criminal groups in Italy
during the 1990s corresponds to the growth of Chinese immigration in that period. In 2000
Italian authorities estimated that 50,000 Chinese were living legally in southern Italy, compared
with only 18,000 in 1990. The number of illegal residents was not known.75 Overall, the vast
majority of Chinese in Italy are from mainland China; few are from Taiwan, Hong Kong, or
Macau. The regions of Italy with the highest concentration of legal Chinese immigrants are
Lombardy, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Tuscany, the Piedmont, Lazio (the province that includes
Rome), and Emilia-Romagna. All except Lazio are in the northern part of Italy (north of Rome).
The Public Prosecutor’s Department in Rome identifies one large region of Italy as
“dangerously open to organized foreign crime.” That area includes Rome, the wealthy northern
urban centers around Turin and Milan, and Tuscany--all of which have large Chinese
populations.76 The concentration in the north offers easy access to the borders of four countries
with trafficking routes—Austria, France, Slovenia, and Croatia—as well as access to the “fiscal
paradise” money-laundering bank centers in Monaco, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland.77 A second
region, comprising the entire Adriatic (east) coast of the country, is a primary staging area for
illegal immigrants arriving by sea to move northward in Italy.
According to Italy’s Anti-Mafia Investigative Department (DIA), Chinese criminal
groups in Italy are small (between 12 and 50 members), differentiated by their native region, and
organized under a single chief according to the traditional triad structure. There is no overarching
unity among these groups.78 However, Chinese groups may cooperate among themselves, and
they increasingly cooperate with other ethnic criminal groups in a variety of activities. The Ji
Rong Lin group of Rome is an example of a multinational group with Italian ties. Under a chief
who resides in Paris, the group is active in prostitution, gambling, trafficking in people,
74 Faligot, 263.
75 Faligot, 129.
76 Claudia Fusani, “Plan Against Foreign Mafia from CSM,” La Repubblica [Rome], November 19, 2000 (FBIS
Document EUP20001120000110).
77 Faligot, 134.
78 Faligot, 133.
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extortion, and theft in Italy, Austria, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. In Rome, the
group’s document forgery operations are especially notable, having established “a veritable
underground passport factory in the Bastoncini dioro, a Roman restaurant.”79
As in other European countries, one of Chinese organized crime’s major activities is
trafficking in people, which increased substantially in the 1990s. As of 1995, illegal immigrants
arrived in Italy by several overland and water routes. The arrival points in Italy are Rome,
Brindisi, Trieste, Milan, and Sicily. Several routes pass through Eastern Europe (some
combination of Romania, Hungary, Albania, the Czech Republic, and Yugoslavia), and several
pass through West European countries (Austria, France, Germany, or Malta) before reaching
Italy. Illegal migrants cross the Strait of Otranto from Albanian ports to the Italian port of
Brindisi, from where they move north into Tuscany and Lombardy. This route requires
cooperation with both Albanian and Italian criminal groups.80 Other migrants pass from northern
China into the Maritime (Primor’ye) Territory of Russia, then to Moscow. In Moscow they buy
Italian visas for US$10,000 to US$15,000 per visa, “legalizing” their entry into Italy.81 Local
criminals in northern Italy are known to have established cooperative people-trafficking ventures
with Chinese criminal groups.82
In late 2002, the Italian Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate (DIA) reported that the
powerful Neapolitan Camorra mafia organization has established cooperative agreements with
Chinese groups seeking to gain a foothold in the Naples market for counterfeit goods, from
which Chinese might expand into other criminal activities in that region.83 Reportedly, Chinese
groups also have an accord with the Italian mafia in Rome, by which the former engage only in
illegal migrants, leaving the Italians with narcotics and arms trafficking.84
Italy is home to several very active groups that fall under the general term “Black
Society,” which is based in Milan and Rome and also has member groups in France, Spain, and
the United States. Among the Chinese groups in Italy are two Milan groups, the Yu Hu and the
Da Huang, which dominate that city’s racketeering and participate in various economic crimes.
79 Faligot, 136–37.
80 Faligot, 131.
81 “Russian, Chinese Security Officers Stem Illegal Immigration Channel to Italy,” RIA-Novosti [Moscow],
February 20, 2002 (FBIS Document CEP20020220000134).
82 DiPetrillo.
83 Lirio Abbate, “The Mafia Is Active and Is Concentrating on Contracts,” La Stampa [Turin], October 10, 2002
(FBIS Document EUP20021010000023).
84 Faligot, 132.
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A second branch, made up of immigrants from Qingtian (Zhejiang Province), is the dominant
Chinese group in Rome. The third branch, from Wenzhou (Zhejiang Province) is known for its
brutal extortion of protection money from the Chinese community, which has resulted in some
collaboration with the DIA.85
Besides human trafficking, the second most common crime is counterfeiting documents
such as residence permits, driving licenses, and passports, a craft in which criminal groups have
become very expert. In the 1990s, Italian authorities also attributed substantial illegal gambling
activity to Chinese groups.86 Chinese groups also have gained a share of the trade in counterfeit
cigarettes, which Albanian groups smuggle into southern Italy. Chinese mafia groups from
Fujian Province (southeastern China) are active in trafficking counterfeit designer clothing into
Italy through Genoa. Such activity relies on support from the non-criminal émigré community
from Fujian.87 The DIA also has documented Chinese participation in prostitution, kidnapping,
and robbery.88
Spain
In 2000 Spain had about 10,000 legal Chinese residents, of which about half lived in
Madrid. Most of that population came from Zhejiang Province. According to Spanish police
sources, the number of illegal Chinese migrants into Spain has increased significantly over the
last decade. One estimate places that number at 50,000. In 2000 another source estimated that
15,000 illegal Chinese migrants were performing virtual slave labor in workshops run by local
and international Chinese gangs in Spain.89
Very high-quality document counterfeiting has contributed greatly to recent expansion of
the migrant traffic from China to Spain. Illegal migrants move from China to Spain by following
the usual route from northern China to Moscow, where some obtain illegal visas. From there,
migrants move to Germany through several different countries; those with visas get “legal”
passage through Germany, and those without follow forested routes.90 Chinese people traffickers
85 Faligot, 132.
86 DiPetrillo.
87 Faligot, 172.
88 Faligot, 133–34.
89 Faligot, 147.
90 Faligot, 142.
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cooperate with local criminals; based on recent arrests, the Spanish police report that the
traffickers also have contacts in Portugal, Italy, Belgium, and France.91
Two groups, known as the Gang of Seven and the Gang of Thirteen, are Spanish
branches of the Zhejiang-based Red Sun group, which also has branches in France and Italy.
Although Li Ji Min, founder of the Spanish branches, was arrested in 1995, the activity of the
gangs has continued. Authorities believe that six other criminal groups are operating in Madrid,
under a Chinese leader known only as “Big Uncle.” The Hong Kong-based 14K triad is known
to be present in Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia, in some cases working with Red Sun gangs.92
JAPAN
Traditionally the most active Chinese criminal groups in Japan have been based in
Shanghai, Beijing, and Fujian Province.93 However, in 1997 the National Police Agency, Japan’s
equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, reported that several Hong Kong-based
criminal organizations, including the 14K, had been expanding their operations in Japan since
the 1980s. Already in 1997, the 14K had branches in Fukuoka, Osaka, Sapporo, and Tokyo, each
with at least 1,000 members. Reportedly, the 14K operatives are feared even by Japan’s powerful
Yakuza crime groups. The Yakuza have cooperated widely with snakeheads from Chinese
trafficking syndicates (sometimes but not necessarily involved with the 14K) in importing large
numbers of illegal Chinese migrants. That practice takes advantage of a long tradition of
Japanese authorities allowing Chinese illegal migrants to take up residence and fill the gaps in
Japan’s labor market. Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport is a central starting point for this activity.
Because that market has been depressed for some time, in recent years the illegal Chinese have
turned increasingly to crime after arriving in Japan.94
Chinese groups in Japan also have been identified with other forms of crime. According
to a report of the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute, Chinese snakehead groups have
91 “Chinese Immigrant Trafficking Ring Smashed in Spain,” El Mundo [Madrid], July 4, 2002 (FBIS Document
EUP20020704000187).
92 Faligot, 147.
93 Glenn Schloss, “SAR’s Sun Yee On Triad ‘Spearheading a Push’ into Japan,” South China Morning Post [Hong
Kong], December 13, 1999 (FBIS Document FTS19991213000262).
94 Ajay Singh and Murakami Mutsuko, “Japan Is the New Frontier: Behind the Influx of Chinese Illegal
Immigrants,” Asia Week, May 9, 1997, http://www.asiaweek.com/asiaweek/97/0509/nat6.htm.
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used Japanese underground banks to launder the profits from their operations in Japan.95 The
14K, Sun Yee On, and Wee Hop To organizations use sophisticated techniques of counterfeiting
credit cards in Tokyo and Osaka, and in recent years authorities have attributed incidents of
armed robbery to those groups. In 1999 a Hong Kong newspaper report linked the Sun Yee On
group with Japan’s largest organized crime group, the Yamaguchi-gumi. According to Japanese
authorities, the Chinese groups consider Japan an inviting target for fraud and extortion because
of a perceived attitude of trust among the Japanese.96
LATIN AMERICA
Central America
Large numbers of illegal migrants move directly from China into large Chinese
communities in Guatemala, Panama, Honduras, and Costa Rica. In those countries, which have
no visa requirement, local criminal organizations obtain documentation for the migrants. In the
late 1990s, Interpol identified 18 local Chinese gangs that were federated in Central America
under the Fa Yen triad.97 According to a 1995 report, Taiwanese nationals in Guatemala
established a people-trafficking route connecting Taiwan with Southern California, where other
Taiwanese nationals had established a destination point.98
A 2002 report characterized Guatemala as “a significant transit country for alien
smuggling, both from neighboring Central American countries and Ecuador and from China,
Taiwan, and South Asia….”99 Reportedly, migrants moving from China to the United States via
Guatemala pay as much as US$25,000 to their Chinese traffickers.100 Belize reportedly also has
95 Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, “Current Situation of
Organized Crimes in Trafficking Stolen Vehicles, Card Fraud, Money Laundering and Major Transnational
Organized Crime Groups, UNAFEI Resource Materials Series, no. 58 (December 2001),
http://www.unafei.or.jp/pdf/58-18.pdf.
96 Glenn Schloss, “Tokyo Fears Hong Kong Triads Increasing Activity in Japan,” South China Sunday Morning Post
[Hong Kong], June 21, 1998 (FBIS Document FTS19980622000084).
97 Faligot, 142–43.
98 Jennifer Bolz, “Chinese Organized Crime and Illegal Alien Trafficking: Humans as a Commodity,” Asian Affairs
22, no. 3 (1995), http://www.csuohio.edu/polisci/courses/PSC422/Chinesecrime.
99 “Human Rights Report for Guatemala: Trafficking in Persons,” http://www.ncbuy.com/reference/country/human
rights.
100 International Organization for Migration, “Migrant Trafficking--Case Study: Guatemala,” August 1998,
http://www.iom.int.
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functioned as a transit point for illegal migrants and narcotics between Taiwan and the United
States, under the influence of bribes to government officials from Taiwan-based triads.101
In 2000, the National Institute of Justice described Panama as a major transit point for
illegal migrants into the United States from a number of countries, including China.102 The award
of a long-term contract by the government of Panama to the Hong Kong-based Hutchison
Whampoa Company to operate shipping facilities at the Panama Canal’s port cities of Balboa
and Cristobal, has aroused speculation that this Chinese connection might gain traffickers free
access to the canal.103
South America
The activity of Chinese criminal groups in South America is concentrated most heavily in
what is known as the Tri-Border Area (TBA), where the territory of Argentina, Brazil, and
Paraguay meet. Within that region, the center of Chinese criminal activity is Ciudad del Este, a
city of about 250,000 in southeastern Paraguay. This boom town reportedly contributes 60
percent of Paraguay’s tax revenue, much of which is based on illegal activity. That financial
support has prevented government authorities from exercising border controls with neighboring
Brazil and Argentina and from establishing a credible police presence in the city. A 1998 report
characterizes Ciudad del Este as “the criminal outpost for regional and international mafias and
[it] lives off counterfeit goods, smuggling, cheap electronics and clothing, drug-trafficking,
prostitution, the trade of minors and the small arms trade.” According to that report, four of
every five people in the city are illegal immigrants. Initially encouraged by the Paraguayan
government, a strong surge of immigration from China began in the 1980s and has continued
since that time.104 The city’s mainly Cantonese Chinese population, estimated at as high as
30,000 (about 9,000 of which are legal immigrants), has been an ideal environment for the
operations of Chinese criminal groups.105
101 Bolz.
102 James O. Finckenauer and Jennifer Schrock, “Human Trafficking: A Growing Criminal Market in the United
States” (U.S. Institute of Justice report, 2000), http://www.ojp.usdoj/nij/international/ht.html.
103 See, for example, Douglas J. Davids, “Drug Threat Strategy of Nation Against Nation,” The Officer 77, no. 7
(August 2001), http://www.csuohio.edu/polisci/courses/PS422/indirect.htm.
104 Khatchik der Ghougassian, “Developing a Sub-Regional Approach to Combat Weapons Proliferation,” in
Connecting Weapons with Violence, ISS monograph no. 25, May 1998.
105 The higher figure is reported in Mariano César Bartolomé, “Amenzas a la Seguridad de los Estados: La Triple
Frontera coma 'Area Gris' en el Cono Sur Americano” [Threats to the Security of States: The Tri-Border Region as a
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The dynamism of the Chinese community in the city has attracted Chinese criminal
groups from China and from Taiwan. Members of at least one triad, the Sun Yee On, are known
to be based in Ciudad del Este. The Chinese groups specialize in providing “protection” to the
local Chinese business people and in imposing “taxes” on the containers imported by the Chinese
businesses from Asia. When the groups import goods directly from Asia, the Chinese business
community is obligated to purchase that merchandise, or suffer the consequences of not doing
so.106 In this way, the criminal groups gain monopoly control over the import of particular types
of merchandise.
Hong Kong-based criminal groups engage in large-scale trafficking in pirated products,
particularly electronics, from China to Ciudad del Este. According to international intelligence
agencies, those groups also maintain strong ties with the pro-Iranian Hizballah in the TBA.107
Ayrton Nascimiento Vicente, who was chief of Brazil’s TBA Command, an organization created
by the three national governments to control the zone, confirmed the existence in the TBA of
Chinese criminal groups with branches in São Paulo (Brazil), Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia),
San Francisco (California), and Buenos Aires, among other cities.108
In 2001 the Paraguayan government was making a significant effort to neutralize the
activities of the Chinese mafias, but with only occasional success. A few major organizational
leaders such as Wu Wen Huan, an alleged extortionist, tax evader, and trafficker in illegal
commodities, have been arrested in the past two years.
According to regional security expert Mariano Bartolomé, Chinese criminal activity has
increased in the TBA in general and Ciudad del Este in particular because the region plays a key
role in the expansion plans of these criminal organizations into Argentina. The objective of the
Chinese criminals is to establish themselves in the duty-free zone of the Argentine province of
San Luis. At the same time, economic pressure has increased to eliminate the Chinese criminal
element from the region. A group of 15 Taiwanese industrialists has shown interest in
'Grey Area' in the American Southern Cone]. Buenos Aires, November 29, 2001, 7, http://www.geocities.com/
mcbartolome/triplefronteral.htm.
106 Bartolomé, 7.
107 “Paraguay: ‘Strong Ties’ Seen Between Hong Kong Mafia, Tri-border Based Hizballah,” ABC Color [Asuncion],
November 22, 2002 (FBIS Document LAP20021122000059).
108 Bartolomé 5.
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establishing branches of their industries in the Eastern Industrial Park of Ciudad del Este, on
condition that local authorities eradicate the Chinese mafia in the TBA.109
The Chinese mafia in the TBA are known to collaborate with the Islamic terrorist groups
in the region. According to Brazilian investigative reporter Roberto Godoy, at least two
organizations—the Sung-I and Ming families—have engaged in illegal operations with the
Egypt-based Gamaa Islamiya (Islamic Group).110 In December 2000, Sung-I sold a shipment of
munitions, labeled as medical equipment, to the Islamic Group in Egypt. The Ming family has
managed Islamic Group funds from Ciudad del Este in a financial circuit that includes Guyana
and the Cayman Islands.111
NORTH AMERICA
Canada
In recent years, Canadian authorities have recognized that Chinese criminal groups are
expanding their activities and presenting a serious law enforcement problem in most parts of the
country. An important part of that activity is in Vancouver and Toronto, cities very close to the
United States border that provide access to U.S. markets. Vancouver and other Pacific ports in
British Columbia are key entry points for illegal trafficking of narcotics, arms, and migrants from
Asia.112
The Big Circle group was founded by Red Guard militiamen who were purged or
imprisoned in the late 1960s (Chinese prisons were indicated on maps by large circles, hence the
name). Based in Toronto and Vancouver, Big Circle controls a very lucrative illicit credit card
enterprise that has flourished only in the past ten years. The loosely structured group uses its
connections in many countries and with other types of crime, such as trafficking in heroin and
luxury automobiles, to maintain a large amount of working capital. Big Circle also is known to
cooperate with other ethnic criminal groups, predominantly but not exclusively Asian. Complete
credit-card forging operations are known to exist in Canada as well as on the U.S. West Coast;
109 Bartolomé, 8.
110 Bartolomé, 8.
111 Bartolomé, 8.
112 Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, “Annual Report 2002,” http://www.cisc.gc.ca.
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the most sophisticated operations do authentic reproductions of credit-card holograms, using
equipment imported from Asia.113
Major Chinese crime groups also are present in Calgary, Edmonton, and Montreal; some
activity also is present in Halifax, Ottawa, and Winnipeg. In the late 1990s, economic expansion
and growth of the Asian population in the province of Alberta brought an increase in Chinese
participation in financial crime in Calgary and Winnipeg.114 The two most active triads in
Canada have been the 14K and the Luen Kung Lok. Others present in some Canadian cities are
the Sun Yee On, Wo Hop To, and Wo On Lok (the last two of which are branches of the Hong
Kong-based Wo group).115 In the past six years, groups from Fujian Province have grown
rapidly. Chinese groups often employ the Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese street gangs that
also are present in these cities as enforcers when violence is necessary. Chinese groups also are
known to be involved in money laundering, burglary, extortion, counterfeiting checks, illegal
gambling, telecommunications fraud, and the pirating of computer software. Profits from
criminal activities also are invested in legitimate businesses.116
Chinese groups are involved in all levels of Canada’s growing heroin trade, even
reaching remote urban centers such as Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. Heroin moves
from the source in Southeast Asia through China’s Guangdong Province to Vancouver, which is
a central distribution point for North American sales. Big Circle and Hong Kong-based triads
regularly have used commercial transport to move large shipments of heroin into Canada.117 In
2000 authorities confiscated a shipment of 57 kilograms (about 125 pounds) of heroin and 17
kilograms (37 pounds) of designer drugs that had passed through Vancouver. The cultivation and
trafficking of marijuana has increased during the past ten years, especially in British Columbia,
the Calgary area, and southern Ontario. Much of the marijuana produced in British Columbia
moves via Vancouver into the more profitable markets of the United States. In 2001 Canadian
officials estimated that 10,000 illegal marijuana cultivation operations existed in Vancouver
113 Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “Asian-Based Card Crime in Canada,” January 18, 1999, http://www.rcmp-
grc.gc.ca/crim_int/cardcrimeeng.htm.
114 Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, “Annual Report 1998,” http://www.cisc.gc.ca.
115 Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “Beneath the Dragon’s Shadow: Canadian Investigators Face Off with Hong
Kong Triads,” http://www.rcmp-learning.org/docs/ecdd0062.htm.
116 Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, “Annual Report 2001,” http://www.cisc.gc.ca.
117 Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, “Annual Report 1998.”
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alone. Chinese participation in large-scale cocaine trafficking also has been identified in western
Canada.118
Most of the illegal Chinese migrants who enter Canada move along into the United
States, either overland or in container ships. The Akwesasne Mohawk Territory in northern New
York, Walpole Island, Ontario at the west end of Lake Erie, and the Niagara frontier region at the
east end of Lake Erie have been transit points into the United States from Canada for trafficking
migrants and goods. Most of the illegal migrants coming into Canada from China originate in
Fujian Province.119
United States
A wide variety of Chinese criminal organizations are active in the United States. Some
are based exclusively in the United States, some have links to triad groups in Hong Kong and
Taiwan, and others have links to Chinese communities in other countries. According to Chinese
crime expert Ko-lin Chin, no monolithic Chinese mafia organization is present in the United
States, and existing organizations do not normally cooperate among themselves in international
criminal activities.120 The groups with links to Hong Kong and Taiwan retain the hierarchical
structure of the traditional triad. They receive financial and other assistance, but no directives on
how to use such assistance, from their home country.121
The traditional triad hierarchy has been simplified in the United States, and members
often switch allegiance if necessary to improve their financial position. Triads and other types of
criminal groupings in the United States are not unified entities, but rather loose confederations of
independent cells with no identifiable central authority.122 Individual gangs, normally made up of
teen-agers and men in their twenties, operate on territory and under the protection of legitimate
social, benevolent, and commercial groups called tongs (meeting halls). The tongs provide
money, protect criminal activity such as gambling, and use their prestige in the Chinese
community to reinforce extortion demands by the gangs. The gangs and the tongs are connected
118 Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, “Annual Report 2001.”
119 Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, “Annual Report 2001.”
120 Ko-lin Chin, quoted in James O. Finckenauer, “Chinese Transnational Organized Crime: The Fuk Ching
(National Institute of Justice report, 2000).
121 Finckenauer.
122 Ning-Ning Mahlmann, “Chinese Criminal Enterprises from [sic] Asian Criminal Enterprise Program Overview:
A Study of Current FBI Asian Criminal Enterprise Investigations in the United States” (U.S. Department of State
International Information Programs report, 2000), http://usinfo.state.gov/regional/ea/chinaaliens/ningning.htm.
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in a hierarchical relationship governed by norms and rules.123 Membership and group structure
are quite fluid; individual criminal enterprises may bring together new groupings that
subsequently disappear or shift. For example, in New York City the Drug Enforcement Agency
has described trafficking groups as “ranging from loose confederations of businessmen and
smugglers who collaborate on a single deal to complex organized crime operations.”124 The triad
groups in the United States cooperate with similar groups in other countries to conduct narcotics
and migrant trafficking, credit-card fraud, theft of vehicles and electronic equipment, piracy of
intellectual property, and money laundering.125
Following the Tiananmin Square incident of 1989, liberalization of U.S. policy toward
Chinese immigrants brought a significant increase in the Chinese populations of U.S. cities, as
well as in the amount of money moving from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and (later) China to members
of the Chinese communities in the United States. This change provided more fertile ground for
existing Chinese criminals who preyed on the Chinese communities. It also brought new gangs
such as the Big Circle and the Fu Ching groups from China to challenge the dominant positions
of the traditional triad groups from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. As Chinese communities in
the United States have become less ethnically homogeneous, the activities of the Chinese
criminal groups based in those communities have become more diverse. Those groups have
abandoned their reliance on extortion within the community (a practice that still continues) and
entered a range of other criminal activities aimed against society as a whole. Those activities
range from simple street crime to transnational dealings by Chinese criminals who also operate
legitimate businesses. The geographic range of such activity also has increased: in 1998 the
Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated crime by Chinese suspects at 29 of its 56 national
branch offices.126
Reportedly, Chinese groups cooperate with other ethnic criminal groups whenever such
groups can be of use. Cooperation is known to occur with Dominican, Hispanic, Korean,
Filipino, Italian, and Vietnamese groups. The methodology of Chinese groups has influenced
that of other ethnic groups. For example, Vietnamese groups adopted the violent home-invasion
robbery profile of the Chinese Big Circle group. In recent years, Chinese groups in the United
123 Finckenauer.
124 Chin, Zhang, and Kelly, 132.
125 Mahlmann.
126 Mahlmann.
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States have been most active in narcotics and migrant trafficking and credit-card fraud, all of
which are transnational in scope and utilize a “long cultivated international network of criminal
contacts.” Narcotics trafficking involves primarily the movement of heroin from the Golden
Triangle region of Southeast Asia into the United States.127 Credit-card fraud utilizes a very
sophisticated counterfeiting system based in Hong Kong and Canada to distribute apparently
authentic cards throughout North America and Europe.128
Chinese groups have demonstrated awareness of electronic surveillance devices that
authorities use against them, evading electronic detection and in some cases even conducting
counter-surveillance against law enforcement agents. The Chinese groups also take full
advantage of reduced trade barriers and increased transnational contacts to form new connections
and move bases of operation when needed. Flexibility and patience are characteristics that have
been very helpful in identifying and utilizing optimal market conditions and evaluating
potentially dangerous situations.129
Several gangs are dominant in New York City: the Born-to-Kill (Vietnamese-Chinese),
the Flying Dragons (Cantonese and Toisanese), the Fuk Ching (Fujianese), the Ghost Shadows
(Cantonese and Toisanese), and the Tung On (Hakka). The dominant groups in California
(notably in Long Beach, Los Angeles, and San Francisco) are the Wah Ching and the Wo Hop
To. The former was described in 1995 as the most powerful Asian crime group in San Francisco.
Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, and Seattle are other
U.S. cities where Chinese gangs have been active.130
One of the most powerful Chinese criminal groups in the United States is United
Bamboo, which originated in Taiwan in 1956. After members of the relatively small group began
migrating to the United States in the 1970s, the group expanded and diversified significantly.
Today, United Bamboo has major branches in California, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Miami,
and Phoenix, as well as numerous Latin American countries and Canada. The group practices
murder, extortion, trafficking of narcotics and people, kidnapping, gambling, and loan
127 Mahlmann.
128 Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, “National Organized Crime Priorities 1998: Asian-Based Organized
Crime,” http://www.cisc.gc.ca/AnnualReport1998/Cisc1998en/asian98.htm.
129 Mahlmann.
130 Ko-lin Chin, Chinatown Gangs: Extortion, Enterprise, and Ethnicity (New York: Oxford University Press,
1996), 8.
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sharking.131 Other groups with a major foothold in the United States are the 14K triad (in New
York, California, Chicago, Boston, and Houston) and the Sun Yee On triad (in New York,
Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles).132 The structure and activities of the New York groups
differ significantly from those of the West Coast.133
In New York the Fuk Ching is known to be especially powerful and to have transnational
activities. The Fuk Ching’s main transnational activity is migrant trafficking from Fujian
Province, which is the principal source of illegal migrants moving from China to the United
States and the province of origin of Fuk Ching’s estimated 55 members. All the New York gangs
survive mainly by extortion and racketeering within their respective territories in the city’s
official and unofficial Chinatowns. Gangs in New York and California also participate in
legitimate businesses such as restaurants, stores, vegetable stands, and car services.134
Illegal Chinese migrants began arriving in the United States in large numbers in the late
1980s, mainly from Fujian Province. According to the FBI, in 1999 Chinese groups accounted
for 45 percent of migrant trafficking by Asian groups into the United States. According to Chin,
little is known of the structure and procedure of such human trafficking. Although triad, tong,
and gang members are involved, trafficking operations may be ad hoc activities that involve
individuals from several organizations, legitimate and illegal, whose location or resources are
appropriate to advancing a particular stage of the process. Thus the term “organized crime” may
not apply strictly to what is nevertheless a very large and growing form of criminal activity. It is
certain that individuals at the transit points are Taiwanese, Chinese, and non-Chinese, although
the initiators of this global business are specifically Fujian Chinese in the United States.135
Individuals active in migrant trafficking fall into several categories. The “big
snakeheads” are the organizers and investors, usually Chinese living outside China, who oversee
the operation but are not known to those at lower levels. “Small snakeheads” are Chinese in
China who are responsible for recruiting “customers” from the vast numbers of Chinese eager to
131 Peter Huston, Tongs, Gangs, and Triads: Chinese Crime Groups in North America (San Jose, California:
Authors Choice, 2001), 105, 108.
132 Jennifer Bolz, “Chinese Organized Crime and Illegal Alien Trafficking: Humans as a Commodity,” Asian Affairs
22, no. 3, http://www.csuohio.edu/polisci/courses/PSC422/Chinesecrime.htm.
133 Robert Taylor, “Chinatown Gangs: Extortion, Enterprise, and Ethnicity by Ko-lin Chin” (book review), Law and
Policy Book Review 7, no. 6, http://www.bsos.umd.edu/gvpt/lpbr/subpages/reviews/chin.htm.
134 Chin.
135 Ko-lin Chin, “The Social Organization of Chinese Human Smuggling,” in David Kyle and Rey Koslowski, eds.,
Global Human Smuggling: Comparative Perspectives (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001),
http://usinfo.state.gov/regional/ea/chinaaliens/smuggling2.htm.
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leave their homeland. Those recruiters act as middlemen between the organizers and the
customers. In the United States and elsewhere, transporters and guides ensure that migrants reach
the next transit point or the final destination. Snakehead operations in China and the United
States often are linked by kinship.136 An important element is the cooperation of officials at the
point of origin. Southern California has been an important point of entry for migrants trafficked
from China via Central America and Mexico.
As an extension of trafficking in people, Chinese triads and gangs also are involved in
recruiting and smuggling of women for the sex trade in the United States and in running brothels
in Chinese communities. Chinese groups own some brothels and extract protection fees from
others. Gang members protect the brothels from other gangs and from unwanted (non-Asiatic)
customers. Reportedly, in California Chinese and Vietnamese gangs involved in prostitution are
the most organized and vicious of the state’s Asian criminal groups.137 Malaysia-based Chinese
groups reportedly gain a profit of US$5,000 to US$7,000 per Malaysian women delivered to the
United States.138 According to one report, in 1998 some 5,000 Chinese women were working as
prostitutes in the Los Angeles area, and trafficked Chinese women and children have ended up in
many parts of the United States.139
Working on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, well-organized Chinese criminal
groups, based mainly in Vancouver, British Columbia, control the relatively small share of the
U.S. heroin market that comes from Southeast Asia. (By contrast, most of the heroin marketed in
Canada comes from that region and is imported by Chinese groups.) Increasingly, such groups
are from Fujian Province. The main U.S. markets for such heroin are on the East Coast.
Although heroin is trafficked mainly among Chinese groups, some groups have had heroin
dealings with Dominican and Italian groups in Canada and the United States.140 Chinese groups
136 Chin, “The Social Organization of Chinese Human Smuggling.”
137 Amy O’Neill Richard, “International Trafficking in Women to the United States: A Contemporary Manifestation
of Slavery and Organized Crime” (U.S. Department of State International Information Programs report, April 2000),
http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/global/traffic/report/homepage.htm.
138 Richard.
139 Kathryn McMahon and Daniel B. Wood, “A Crusade to Free Captive Daughters,” The Christian Science
Monitor, March 12, 1998, cited in Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, “Factbook: United States,” 1998,
http://www.catwinternational.org/fb/usa1.html.
140 National Drug Intelligence Center, “United States-Canada Drug Threat Assessment,” December 2001,
http://www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs/794/heroin.htm.
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also play an increasing role in the distribution of high-quality marijuana from Canada into the
United States.141
RUSSIA
Chinese triads have established strong footholds in Russia, particularly in Moscow and in
the Russian Far East. Maintaining strict secrecy, the triads generally have eluded Russian law
enforcement authorities. Russian police and customs officials are easily bribed, face a formidable
language barrier, and also profess difficulty differentiating Oriental faces. Particularly in the Far
East, Chinese gangs cooperate closely with their Russian organized crime counterparts. They
come to Russia not only to extort from and exploit the Chinese exile community, but also to
supply the country with narcotics and alcohol; to promote human trafficking, illegal immigration,
and gambling; and to gain access to the country’s vast raw materials, including timber, fish, and
industrial and precious metals.
Estimates of the total Chinese population residing legally in Russia range widely and
often are inflated by Russian xenophobia. A reasonable estimate, based on demographic
research, is that in 2000 the legal Chinese population did not exceed 500,000. The Chinese
community has grown dramatically in the Russian Far East, where permanent Chinese residents
rose from 1,742 in 1989 to 237,000 in 2001.142 The permanent Chinese community in Moscow
numbers about 20,000 to 25,000, although at any given time the Chinese presence approaches
100,0000.143 The total Chinese population of the Maritime Territory (Primor’ye) alone was
estimated at 100,000 in 2001, with a heavy concentration near the Chinese border to the south.144
Estimates of the illegal Chinese in Russia also vary widely. Criminals are able to enter
Russia through loopholes in entry restrictions and by using tourist visas and student visas.
Beginning in 1989, many more Chinese have passed through Russia en route to Europe than
141 National Drug Intelligence Center.
142 V. Karlusov and A. Kudin, “Kitayskoye Prisutstviye na Rossiyskom Dal’nem Vostoke: Istoriko-Ekonomicheskiy
Analiz” [The Chinese Presence in the Russian Far East: An Historical and Economic Analysis], Problemy Dal’nego
Vostoka [Moscow], May 1, 2002, 76–87.
143 Oleg Voronin, “Novaya Vlast’ i Novyye Bandity: K Voprosu o Kitayskom Opyte dlya Rossii” [New Power and
New Bandits—On Russia’s Chinese Experience], Vostochno-Sibirskaya Pravda [Irkutsk], September 12, 2001; and
Svyatoslav Timchenko, “V Peterburge Budet Chayna-Taun? Ekho Demograficheskogo Vzryva v Kitaye Dokatilos’
do Severnoy Rossiyskoy Stolitsy” [Will There Be a Chinatown in Petersburg? An Echo of the Demographic
Explosion in China Has Reached the Northern Russian Capital], Nezavisimaya Gazeta [Moscow], June 7, 2001, 4.
144 Alexandr [sic] Nemets and Thomas Torda, “Chinese in Russia’s Maritime Region, Part 2,
http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2002/1/19/145048.shtml.
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have remained on Russian territory. According to crime and security expert Roger Faligot,
Chinese trafficking groups have outposts in Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, and
Slovakia to take advantage of the flow of Chinese exiles through Russia.145
Chinese triads exploit fellow Chinese merchants and entrepreneurs by demanding a
tribute for “protection” services. In doing so, they take advantage of the strong reluctance of
victims and their relatives to contact Russian authorities because of ethnic loyalty and concern
about their immigration status. For that reason, witnesses to crimes committed by the Chinese
triads are rarely forthcoming. Merchants present a worthwhile target for extortion because an
estimated US$10 billion worth of consumer goods are imported illegally into Russia from China
annually, nearly as much as the official merchandise trade between the two nations.146 The many
Chinese restaurant owners in Russia are a second large category of extortion victims.
Anecdotal accounts of Chinese organized crime involvement in murder and robbery
suggest that violent crime generally is directed against fellow Chinese in the course of
internecine strife between gangs or shakedowns of Chinese merchants. Although some violence
occurs between Chinese and non-Chinese criminal groups, the former generally respect the
territory of their Russian counterparts.147 Territorial disputes are avoided because the Chinese
groups primarily victimize the Chinese émigré community, which is not a target group of
Russian organized crime. A notable exception was a rash of violence that resulted in the 1990s
from incursions by Russian criminal groups into the territory of the Chinese Big Circle group
(which is not a triad) in the cities of Khabarovsk, Moscow, and Vladivostok.148 In February
2003, a Chinese triad leader was killed in Irkutsk as a result of a gang war between Chinese and
Chechen groups active in timber trafficking.149
Reportedly, Chinese narcotics trafficking is better established in the Russian Far East
than in Moscow. According to a 2001 report in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, about 90 percent of
synthetic narcotics or psychotropic substances imported into Russia’s Far Eastern region come
145 Faligot, 300.
146 Yevgeniy Verlin, “Cherniy nal i zheltaya opasnost’” [The Black Market and the Yellow Peril], Ekspert
[Moscow], March 18, 2002, 64–69.
147 Natal’ya Nikulina, “Dzhem i Lao Da—Russkiy s kitaytsem bratany navek” [Jim and Lao Da—A Russian and a
Chinese, Brothers Forever], Moskovskaya Pravda [Moscow], September 19, 2002, 10.
148 Faligot, 302.
149 Yuliya Piskareva, “Chinese Criminal Group Leader Killed in Irkutsk,” ITAR-TASS [Moscow], February 22,
2003.
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from China, where triads have established an extensive network of laboratories.150 In recent
years, the precursor substance ephedrine has been trafficked in large quantities from China into
the Primor’ye, where it is transformed into the illegal narcotic ephedrone. Ephedrone, which is a
comparatively cheap “upper,” has spread across the Far East and into Siberia.151
For the Chinese triads, gambling activities are closely related to the human trafficking
and prostitution businesses. In the Russian Far East, there have been recent examples of both
rivalry and cooperation between Chinese and Russian crime groups in the establishment and
support of casinos and prostitution operations connected to them. Russian police have shut down
Chinese-run casinos, but Chinese criminal groups have trafficked Russian women, known as
“Natashas,” as prostitutes to gambling dens in Macau and Hong Kong, often in exchange for
narcotics.
Chinese triads oversee a vast network that smuggles their countrymen from Fujian and
Zhejiang provinces into Europe via Russia. One route brings illegal migrants by air to Moscow,
then continues by bus toward Western Europe across Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland. Another
route brings migrants across the land border at Blagoveshchensk or Nauchki (south of Lake
Baikal), where they board the west-bound Trans-Siberian Railroad.152 The last stage of such
voyages, which is entry into one of the countries of the European Union, often requires
concealment.153 Moscow is the point at which Chinese migrants receive counterfeit visas
enabling them to enter Western European countries “legally.”
Chinese triads also are involved in the trafficking of Russian women.154 “Trading in
women for the purposes of sexual exploitation … is on a huge scale,” according to Far-Eastern
State University Professor Lyudmila Yerokhina. Says Yerokhina, “The most massive exports of
women go to China. According to various estimates, there are as many as 15,000 Russian women
there as slaves, most of them from the [Russian] Far East. The main type of work for these
women is prostitution and drug dealing.”155 Placing a high priority on preventing narcotics
trafficking and other crimes, Russian law enforcement officials often have neglected
150 Timchenko.
151 Nemets and Torda.
152 Faligot, 302.
153 “Zmeynyye golovy gubyat kitaytsev” [Snakeheads Are Killing Chinese], Parlamentskaya Gazeta [Moscow],
June 21, 2000.
154 Ilichev.
155 Lada Glybina, “Black Traffic,” Uchitel'skaya Gazeta [Moscow], September 18, 2001 (FBIS Document
CEP20030110000294).
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enforcement against human traffickers. One reason for this is the cultural attitude that the women
are responsible for their fate, even though they were deceived.
Cooperation between the Russian mafia and Chinese triads was a pre-requisite for the
expansion of northeastern China’s very profitable sex tourism business into Russia’s Maritime
(Primor’ye) Territory. Groups of 50 to 60 pay as much as US$1,000 per person to visit Chinese-
run sex establishments in Primor’ye. Russian “guides” and Chinese owners share additional
revenues from saunas, massages, striptease clubs, and pornography.156 Following on the heels of
Chinese pleasure seekers is a class of swindlers and thieves who commit robberies and other
violent crimes against their countrymen. The rate of serious crime by Chinese criminal groups
against Chinese citizens in Primor’ye has risen significantly in recent years.157
A highly profitable activity of Chinese criminal groups is the smuggling of raw materials
from Russia into China. Citizens of the economically depressed Russian Far East see cooperation
with Chinese traffickers as a means of survival. The raw materials of primary interest are ferrous
and non-ferrous metals, gold, timber, fish, and agricultural products.158 Many of these items are
considered to be precious national resources in Russia. The exchange of smuggled goods across
the border decidedly favors the Chinese, because contraband alcohol (much of it substandard or
even poisonous) and cigarettes are the items most often moved into Russia from China. Millions
of gallons of illegal vodka move across the Chinese border into the Russian Far East, where the
beverage is very popular because of its cheap price and despite its potential lethality.159
Chinese markets have a high demand for ferrous and non-ferrous metals, which have
industrial applications, and for precious metals, particularly gold. However, profits are made on
both sides of the border. According to a 2002 report, Chinese citizens who purchase gold in the
Khabarovsk and Primor’ye territories for the purpose of illegal smuggling often are cheated by
Russian sellers who substitute substandard metals.160 The Chinese metal market stimulates
cannibalization of local equipment to sell metal parts and scrap to Chinese traders. Huge
156 Voronin.
157 Voronin.
158 Aleksandr Grebenyukov, “Polemicheskiye zametki dal’nevostochnika” [Polemical Comments of a Far
Easterner], Suvorovskiy Natisk [Suvorovo], December 12, 2000, 6.
159 Voronin and Nemets and Torda.
160 V.V. Filippov, “Nezakonnaya dobycha i realizatsiya zolota v Khabarovskom kraye” [The Illegal Extraction and
Sale of Gold in Khabarovsk Kray] (report of Vladivostok Center for Research into Organized Crime, May 30,
2002), http://www.crime.vl.ru.
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stockpiles of illegally obtained scrap metal await removal by Chinese traffickers in Nakhodka,
Ussiriysk, and Vladivostok.161
Chinese triads also are active in the timber business in the Russian Far East, which offers
abundant untapped resources, the lack of effective enforcement by forestry and law authorities,
and the potential for high profits.162 Chinese criminal gangs are involved in the selection,
harvesting, and export of Russian timber.163 The groups control large timber yards in
Khabarovsk, and Primor’ye and in the Amur and Chita provinces that adjoin China’s northern
border.164 In illegal timber enterprises, Chinese groups often cooperate with Japanese Yakuza
and Russian groups.165 According to a 2002 report, in cooperation with specialized Russian
criminal organizations called the “timber mafia,” Chinese triads illegally export an estimated 1.5
million cubic meters of timber annually, valued at US$300 million.166 The value of Russian
timber continues to rise on the Chinese market because little timber remains available for harvest
in China.167
The growing industry of marine poaching is another area of cooperation between Chinese
and Russian groups. Russian authorities are unable to stop illegal fishing off the eastern coast
because the fishing is done from Russian boats and because the entrenched Russian “poaching
mafia” is an integral part of harvesting rare fish and sea products by Chinese groups.168 Marine
poachers are further encouraged by high profits from many of the commodities available off
Russia’s Pacific Coast. One of the most coveted types of sea products is trepang, also known as
sea cucumber. A delicacy in China, trepang can be priced at US$100 per kilogram on the retail
market. Reportedly, three criminal groups dominate the trepang smuggling business.169
Chinese poaching activities also extend to other resources from Russia that are in high
demand on Chinese markets. Profitable animal and vegetable products are soft-body sea turtles
and their eggs, rare plants, Siberian tiger skins and body parts, and products from other wild
161 Nemets and Torda.
162 Forests Monitor, “The Wild East—The Timber Trade Between Siberian-Russian Far East and China,” October
2001, http://www.forestsmonitor.org/reports/russia/twe2.htm.
163 “The Wild East.”
164 “The Wild East.”
165 “The Wild East.”
166 Joe de Courcy, David Line, and Alexander Pick, “Asia and the Russian Far East: The Dream of Economic
Integration,” AsiaInt Special Report, November 2002, http://www.asiaint.com/special/secure/AsiaFRE-DEI.pdf.
167 Nemets and Torda.
168 Voronin and Nemets and Torda.
169 Voronin.
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mammals.170 Poachers use increasingly sophisticated equipment and techniques to harvest such
items, and species such as the Siberian tiger are near extinction because of this activity.
Chinese and Russian criminal groups cooperate in a variety of enterprises. In the
Primor’ye region, about 50 organized crime groups include both Russians and Chinese who
reportedly enjoy amicable relations. Chinese criminals active in Russia are known to imitate their
Russian colleagues. They study the Russian language diligently, take on Russian names and
nicknames, and even change their traditions. For example, some Chinese have forsaken their
traditional reticence about revealing their crimes. Instead, they have begun bragging about their
“scrapes with the law,” a practice that gains stature among Russian criminal groups.171
SOUTH AFRICA
During the 1990s, South African authorities identified Chinese criminal groups as a
major factor in the country’s dangerously rising crime rate. The first type of criminal activity
linked with Chinese groups was trafficking in shark fins and abalone. By 1993, police had
detected the presence of members of Hong Kong-based triads in every harbor city and in the
inland Johannesburg/Pretoria region. Since that time, several activities of Chinese groups have
flourished because their crimes—trafficking in migrants and abalone and the importation of
counterfeit goods—fall outside the categories of transnational enforcement emphasis of the
national South African Police Service. By 2001, however, authorities recognized that groups in
the Western Cape also were trafficking in narcotics, laundering money, and dealing in
prostitution.172
In 2000 the legal Chinese population of South Africa was estimated at 100,000, and
police estimated that the country was home to another 100,000 to 200,000 illegal Chinese. As in
other countries, the close-knit Chinese communities provide a protected atmosphere and contacts
for criminal groups. The visibility of both whites and blacks in such a community makes
infiltration difficult, and informers are relatively rare. Since 2000, expansion of official
commercial ties between South Africa and the People’s Republic of China also has provided
improved cover for illicit trafficking between the two. In this environment, Chinese triad-based
170 Nemets and Torda.
171 Nikulina.
172 Peter Gastrow, “Triad Societies and Chinese Organised Crime in South Africa,” Institute of Security Studies
Occasional Paper 48-2001, http://www.iss.co.za/Pubs/Papers/48/48.html.
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groups now are practicing a wide variety of crimes in most South African cities, and they have
established a presence in most of South Africa’s neighboring states. Abalone trafficking, once
the basic activity of the coastal groups, now is one in a long list of activities including fraud,
extortion, gambling, and tax evasion, in addition to those identified in the 1990s.173 South
Africa’s laws make acquisition of legal firearms a simple process for criminal groups.174 Seven
major groups now are represented in both Capetown and Johannesburg. Four of the groups are
based in Hong Kong, three in Taiwan. The four from Hong Kong are two 14K groups, the Sun
Yee On, and the Wo Shing Wo. Little violence has occurred among the four Hong Kong groups,
although they do use violence to eliminate outside competitors and to enforce extortion
payments.
The Hong Kong groups retain the traditional hierarchical triad structure and ritual. The
three Taiwan-based groups are small and organized less rigidly. One of them, which has only
about ten members, still specializes in shark fin trafficking, one concentrates in abalone
trafficking, and the third specializes in gambling and prostitution. Many group members have
established legitimate businesses. Companies owned by the groups facilitate the importation of
counterfeit items such as watches, clothing, and electronic equipment, and legal exporters of
abalone provide a shelter for illegal trafficking of the same commodity.175
The Sun Yee On group is most heavily involved in narcotics trafficking. They compete
with Indian, Pakistani, and South African groups to dominate the importation of methaqualone
from China to South Africa. The Chinese groups completely control the abalone trafficking
business, which remains very profitable although constant poaching has substantially diminished
the harvest of that mollusk. Local South African criminal groups are known to harvest abalone
for sale to the Chinese exporters.176 In 2000 the estimated gross income from illegal exportation
of abalone to Hong Kong was US$32 million. The Chinese groups normally act independently,
although some instances of cooperation are known in South Africa.
173 Gastrow.
174 Gastrow.
175 Gastrow.
176 “Case Study 4: A Chinese Syndicate—Transnational Organised Crime,” in Organised Crime in Southern Africa,
monograph no. 28, August 1998.
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SOUTHEAST ASIA
In Southeast Asia, Chinese organized crime groups are mainly involved in narcotics and
human trafficking and money laundering. The countries in this region are prone to these types of
criminal activity because of poor banking transparency, weak border controls, and geographic
proximity to a major source of narcotics, the Golden Triangle (including parts of Burma, Laos,
and Thailand). Slow economic development and government instability provide a hospitable
environment for significant trafficking in arms, humans, and narcotics in the Southeast Asian
states of Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
In addition, rampant illicit markets and relatively unimpeded international transportation
invite the presence of organized crime syndicates as both havens and income sources. As the
transportation infrastructure and tourist markets promote transnational movement, lax visa laws
and the steady stream of narcotics coming from the Golden Triangle assume paramount
importance as factors in illicit activity. As often occurs, the trafficking of narcotics, humans, and
arms has fostered another form of transnational crime, money laundering, in the region.177
Continued pressure by the Chinese government on domestic syndicates has had the unfortunate
effect of sending criminal groups into Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines, where
the laws and local police have less power.178
Burma, Cambodia, and Laos
Burma, Cambodia, and Laos have been significantly affected by the massive amounts of
poppy cultivation and the heroin and methamphetamine trade that runs the length of the
peninsula from Thailand to China. In addition, these countries are characterized by chronic,
severe economic hardships and political strife. As a result, arms trafficking and human
smuggling also make up a great deal of the Chinese syndicate interests in the three countries.
Although specific data is available only about Chinese narcotics trafficking in these areas,
reports have confirmed that arms smuggling as a result of civil wars in these countries is a major
177 “Organized Crime Moves into Migrant Trafficking,” Trafficking in Migrants [Geneva], no. 11 (June 1996).
178 Sanjiv Kumar Upadhyay, “Current Situation of Organized Crimes in Trafficking Stolen Vehicles, Card Fraud,
Money Laundering and Major Transnational Organized Criminal Groups,” Asian and Far Eastern Institute for the
Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Resource Material Series [Tokyo], no. 58,
http://www.unafei.or.jp.
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problem.179 Because sufficient technology and distribution networks are lacking, none of these
countries is involved significantly in high-tech or high-end crimes such as piracy or credit-card
fraud.
Chinese criminal organizations are responsible for brokering and backing the production
and transport of methamphetamines from Burma to the rest of Southeast Asia. Chinese mafia
groups are known to work in conjunction with the junta leadership of Burma and the United Wa
State Army (USWA) in the trafficking of methamphetamines and heroin throughout the
region.180
In Burma the oppressive military junta led by General Than Shwe continues to stifle
international attempts at an effective crackdown on the narcotics trafficking that originates from
that country. According to a recent report, the 14K triad operating from Mong Nawng, a town in
Burma near the Chinese border, has established a working relationship with the USWA in the
sale and smuggling of heroin into China and Thailand.181 The 14K also is known to traffic
heroin to Australia in an attempt to expand the group’s regional control over narcotics
smuggling.182
Cambodia serves as a haven for the laundering of drug and arms sales by Chinese
syndicates. As a result of years of civil war in Cambodia, a very large stockpile of arms has
accumulated. These arms frequently are smuggled through Thailand to the Liberation Tigers of
Eelan (commonly known as the Tamil Tigers) of Sri Lanka. Other recipients are ethnic minority
insurgent groups in Burma and a variety of more distant customers.183 Among many crime
syndicates that reportedly are involved in the arms trade in the Golden Triangle, the Taiwanese
United Bamboo Gang emerged in 2000 as a major supplier of these arms.184
Cambodia also serves as a major trafficking point for illegal Fujian Chinese migrants to
Thailand and the West. As of 1996, Cambodian law enabled any person donating US$400,000
to the state or investing US$500,000 in the country to receive automatic status as a Cambodian
179 Lintner, 219.
180 “Asian Organized Crime,” in ch. 3 of U.S. White House, International Crime Threat Assessment, December
2000, http://clinton5.nara.gov/WH/EOP/NSC/html/documents/pub4527/pub45270chap3.html.
181 “Thai Daily Urges Burma to Join Regional Efforts to Suppress Drugs,” Bangkok Post [Bangkok], September 30,
2001 (FBIS Document ID SEP20010730000013).
182 “Two Drug Seizures Confirm Link Between Wa, Chinese Triads from Hong Kong,” Bangkok Post [Bangkok],
December 22, 2000 (FBIS Document ID SEP20001222000006).
183 Bertil Lintner, “The Phuket Connection,” The Week [India], April 30, 2000, http://www.theweek.com/20apr30/
events1.htm.
184 Lintner, Blood Brothers, 219.
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citizen. Smaller bribes to immigration officials often achieve the same result, expanding the
field of potential migrants. Because entry into the United States is easier with a Cambodian
passport than with a Chinese one, Cambodia has become a major route for the snakehead groups
operating in Southeast Asia.185 In recent years, the government of the People’s Republic of
China has actively promoted commercial and cultural ties with Cambodia, using the resurgent
Chinese population (estimated at 400,000 in 2000) as its base.186 The influx of ethnic Chinese
investment and immigration also has made Cambodia’s urban regions a safe haven for Chinese
to strengthen their network of trafficking beyond the authority of Chinese police forces.187
Laos is now the second largest world producer of poppies grown for heroin production.188
Laotian poppy cultivation is controlled by Chinese syndicates who refine and smuggle them to
Australia and Hong Kong for distribution.189 Laos also has an extremely high rate of domestic
opium abuse, which has fostered production and trafficking and contributed to the country’s
instability and poverty.190 The authoritarian regime of Laos has resisted the flood of political
dissent that has plagued neighboring Cambodia, but recent pro-democracy attacks have led to
growing instability.191
Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore
Either because of substantial amounts of censorship or unwillingness to report the
presence of gangs, these countries yield very little detailed information concerning Chinese
organized crime. In the mid-nineteenth century, Malaysia and Singapore experienced a large
influx of Chinese immigrants during the Taiping Rebellion (1851-64). Accompanying this
movement was the importation of Chinese syndicates that operated mainly within the ethnically
Chinese communities in each country. Since that time, the Chinese syndicates have evolved into
185 Lintner, Blood Brothers, 220.
186 Paul Marks, “The Growing Cambodian-Chinese Alliance” (Foreign Area Officer Association report, 2000),
http://www.faoa.org/journal/cambod07.html.
187 Lintner, Blood Brothers, 225.
188 U.S. Department of State, “Fact Sheet: U.S. to Help Laos Cut Back Production, Distribution of Illegal Drugs,”
June 4, 2002, http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/global/drugs/02060436.htm.
189 D. Suba Chandran, “Drug Trafficking and the Security of the State: Case Study of Pakistan” (Institute for
Defence Studies and Analyses [New Delhi] report, 1997), http://www.idsa-india.org/an-sep8-7.html.
190 Mustafa Abdullah, “Analysis on Situation of Current Drug Trafficking,” Asian and Far Eastern Institute for the
Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Resource Material Series 58 (December 2001).
191 “Political and Tribal Dissent in Laos,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, April 2000, http://www.janes.com.
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a multi-ethnic organization comprised of both Malays and Chinese.192 At present, human
trafficking accounts for the major part of the Chinese syndicate activities in Malaysia and
possibly Indonesia. The large number of sex workers and illegal Asian immigrants moving
around the world from these countries indicates indirectly the existence of Chinese snakehead
groups. According to one report, Chinese syndicates operating in Malaysia received between
US$5,000 and US$7,000 per person for women trafficked into a prostitution system in the
United States193. Malaysian authorities also have reported the sale and smuggling of Malaysian
women throughout Southeast Asia for use in Chinese owned nightclubs and bars.194
Southeast Asia is increasingly becoming synonymous with pirated software and compact
disks. Malaysia and Singapore are the two largest clearinghouses for pirated discs exported to
the United Kingdom. According to one estimate, Asia produces up to 56 billion counterfeit disks
per year, the bulk of which come from Malaysian plants. It is unclear how many of these discs
are distributed by Chinese syndicates, but these items reportedly are marketed door-to-door by
ethnic Chinese living in Singapore.195 Reports also indicate that immigrants smuggled from
Southeast Asia into Western countries are being recruited to use the sale of pirated discs as a
method of paying off their debts to the syndicates that arranged for their transport.196
Credit-card fraud also is prevalent in Malaysia. However, the lack of substantial reports
of direct links between Chinese syndicates and criminals utilizing software to “skim” credit-card
numbers and information from magnetic strips hinder quantification of the involvement of
Chinese groups in this activity. Chinese groups are known to be involved to some extent,
however, and instances of credit-card fraud in Malaysia and Singapore are increasing.197
As in the case of Thailand, the large volume of bulk shipping that passes through
Malaysia and Singapore creates an environment favorable to all types of smuggling involving
containerized shipping. Singapore handles most of Southeast Asia’s air cargo, and nearly 80
192 Martin Booth. The Triads (New York: St. Martin’s Press 1991), 63.
193 Amy O’Neill Richard, “International Trafficking in Women to the United States: A Contemporary Manifestation
of Slavery and Organized Crime” (Center for the Study of Intelligence report, November 1999),
http://usinfo.state.gov/topic/global/traffic/report.pdf.
194 Richard.
195 Seto Nu-wen, “You May Be Funding Terrorism” (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry report,
2001).
196 Jack Valenti, “International Copyright Piracy: Links to Organized Crime and Terrorism” (testimony before U.S.
House of Representatives Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, March 13, 2003.
197 Upadhyay.
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percent of all the region’s maritime cargo travels from or through Singapore.198 Given the
prevalent use by Chinese syndicates of container ships to distribute narcotics, humans, and
pirated discs throughout the world, the presence of Chinese syndicates in Singapore is likely.199
Malaysia and Singapore are offshore financial havens in the Asia Pacific region. Because
Chinese syndicates use these countries as production points for disc piracy and as starting points
for human smuggling, they also presumably are involved in laundering their funds through these
countries.200 In 2001, a report published by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) of the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development cited Indonesia as one of nineteen
countries whose financial systems’ weaknesses make them vulnerable to money laundering and
related crimes.201
Malaysia’s lax visa laws also promote human trafficking. Currently, Malaysia serves as a
receiving country for women trafficked from most other Southeast Asian countries.202 Because
trafficking in humans for the sex trade and for illegal immigration is lucrative, Chinese organized
crime organizations have become deeply involved in the conduct of Malaysia’s global trafficking
rings.203 Although prostitution is illegal in Malaysia, corrupt members of the Mahathir
government reportedly have been complicit in supporting the industry.204
Indonesia has a highly sophisticated organized crime nexus and large enclaves of ethnic
Chinese. However, the activities of Chinese criminal groups have been significantly curbed by
competition and government enforcement. In most areas, the ethnic Indonesian preman (or
freemen) dominate local extortion, drug, and black markets, leaving very little room for a
Chinese foothold.205
198 “Worldwide Areas of Criminal Activity,” in ch. 3 of U.S. White House, International Crime Threat Assessment,
December 2000, http://clinton5.nara.gov/WH/EOP/NSC/html/documents/pub45270/pub45270chap3.html
199 “Worldwide Areas of Criminal Activity.”
200 Sheldon W. Simon, The Many Faces of Asian Securiy (New York: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2001),
214.
201 John McFarlane, “Piracy, People Smuggling and Drugs: Globalising Crime and Terror” (conference presentation
to Organised Crime and Terrorism in the Asia-Pacific Region: The Reality and the Response, May 9, 2002).
202Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Protection Project, “A Human Rights Report on
Trafficking of Persons, Especially Women and Children,” March 2002, http://209.190.246.239/iomz.pdf.
203 Rina Jimenez-David, “Sex Abuse and Sex Trafficking in Malaysia” Financial Times Asia Intelligence Wire,
September 5, 2002.
204 Jimenez-David.
205 Lintner, 260.
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Philippines
The Philippines hosts a number of Chinese organized crime groups, most of which are
involved in narcotics trafficking to the islands. Other significant law enforcement problems are
Chinese participation in human trafficking, money laundering, and arms dealing. The Philippine
legal system is ill equipped to enforce international law or to protect against transnational crime.
Loopholes in the system continue to frustrate the efforts of Philippine police to prosecute non-
indigenous insurgent groups such as Chinese syndicates.206
Chinese syndicates are responsible for the domestic drug trade in the Philippines, which
is mainly limited to methamphetamines known as “shabu,” and “ice.”207 The major syndicates
involved in these activities are the 14K and Big Circle. The Philippines is at the end point of an
international narcotics ring that traffics most of its illicit drugs from China and Hong Kong for
domestic use rather than for transport to other countries.208 Chinese drug traffickers in Manila
sell shabu to native Filipino dealers, who then distribute it in domestic markets.209
The participation of Chinese organized criminals in Philippine drug trafficking has led
the Philippine and Chinese governments to initiate a cooperative effort to stem all organized
crime activities, including human trafficking, terrorism, money laundering, and narcotics
trafficking.210 In late 2001, reports of corruption raised suspicion that Senator Panfilo Lacson and
the Philippine Department of Justice had links to Chinese and Hong Kong organized crime
syndicates trafficking narcotics in the Philippines. Although it is not clear to what degree the
corruption exists, Colonel Victor Corpus, chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces
of the Philippines (ISAFP), has reported that Lacson maintains bank accounts in the United
States, Canada, and Hong Kong totaling more than US $1 billion.211 Corpus has found proof that
206 Pamintuan, 184.
207 Alberto Rama Olerio, "Current Situation of Transnational Organized Crime in the Philippines," Asian and Far
Eastern Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Resource Material Series, no.54
(1999).
208 Mustafa Abdullah, “Analysis of Current Situation on Illicit Drug Trafficking,” Asian and Far Eastern Institute for
the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, no.58 (December 2001).
209 Mercedes Rullan, “Five ‘Big Circle’ Members Arrested, P116-M Shabu Recovered,” Manila Kabayan
[Philippines], December 23, 2001 (FBIS Document SEP20011223000011).
210 Perseus Echeminada, “Philippine, PRC to Enforce Mechanism of Cooperation Against Organized Crime,” The
Philippine Star [Manila], December 25, 2001 (FBIS Document SEP20011225000035).
211 Maritess N. Reyes, “Philippines on Its Way to Becoming a Narco-State,” Intersect Magazine, November 27,
2001, http://www.cyberdyaryo.com/features/f2001_1127_03.htm.
Library of Congress – Federal Research Division Transnational Chinese Crime
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senators, including Lacson, have had dealings with Chinese drug lord Kim Wong and other
Chinese triad members.212
Chinese organized criminals also launder profits from narcotics trafficking in the
Philippines, taking advantage of the lack of transparency in the Philippine national banking
system. In October 2002, the Philippine government responded to this deficiency by adopting an
anti-money laundering law that targets transnational criminal organizations. The new law also
was a response to a threat of sanctions by the European Union (EU) if the flow of “dirty money”
were not reduced.213 The new law requires banks to open the accounts of suspected launderers
for investigation.214
Trafficking in humans also is widespread in the Philippines. Although the human
trafficking issue has received substantial public attention in recent years, the Philippine Congress
has been slow to enact legislation that would prohibit the trafficking of women and children for
prostitution or forced labor. Such a bill was under consideration in March 2003.215 Organized
crime syndicates from China have been successful in transporting women from their countries of
origin to destinations in the West via the Philippines, and Philippine women have been trafficked
to customers in the international sex trade. In September 2001, immigration officials captured
Chinese national Chung Chee Hui, a suspected leader of a trafficking ring that utilized false
documents and passports to export Chinese women to other countries.216
Increasingly prominent in the Philippines are high-tech syndicates adept at computer
crime. The growth of these groups, which originate in Hong Kong, has contributed to an increase
in and violation of the security of bank transactions. Although the connection of Chinese groups
with such electronic fraud is relatively recent, the prevalence of such activities in neighboring
countries makes an increase in this trend in the Philippines likely.217
212 Amando Doronila, “The Senate—the Nation’s Laundry Machine,” Philippine Daily Inquirer [Manila], August
24, 2001 (FBIS Document SEP20010824000031).
213 “EU to Target Philippines, Nauru in Money-Laundering Crackdown,” Agence Free Press [Paris] report, October
12, 2001 (FBIS Document EUP20011012000252).
214 Aurea Calica, “Analysts Say Philippines’ Anti-money Laundering Law ‘Lacks Teeth,’” The Philippine Star
[Manila], October 1, 2002 (FBIS Document SP20011001000034).
215 “Philippines’ Congress to Pass Anti-Trafficking Act …,” Human Trafficking.org, March 2003,
http://www.humantrafficking.org/countries/eap/philippines/news/antitraffickinglaw.htm.
216 “Chinese National of Human Smuggling Syndicate Nabbed in Cebu,” Philippine Star [Manila], September 4,
2001 (FBIS Document SEP20010904000063).
217 Upadhyay.
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In addition to its narcotics and human trafficking activities, the 14K group also has been
involved in smuggling arms to the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in Mindanao. Reports in 2000
indicated that corrupt government officials were working in tandem with Chinese syndicates to
smuggle arms from China, possibly procured in Cambodia, into the Philippines to assist in Abu
Sayyaf’s kidnapping for ransom schemes.218 Chinese groups also reportedly have cooperated
with the Abu Sayyaf to launder and transmit ransom money, taking a percentage of the ransoms
in exchange for their assistance. A 14K representative known as “Golden Dragon” has worked
with Malaysian organized crime groups in arranging the kidnappings and wiring funds back to
the Abu Sayyaf.219
Issues of governance have helped to maintain the illicit Philippine economy. Not only is
the Philippine government lax in its enforcement of the law, but the language of existing laws is
not easily applicable to conditions created by transnational organized crime and terrorist threats.
The Philippine government, linked with corruption, may lack the political will to apply obscure
legal procedures when political patronage is commonplace. The governing system lacks an
appropriate agency to investigate and try the offenses of transnational criminal groups.220
Thailand
Thailand experiences the full range of organized crime activities that accompany the
narcotics-trafficking networks that use Bangkok as a transit point and a playground for Chinese
syndicate activities. The red-light districts of Thai cities are home to Chinese-owned brothels,
casinos, and entertainment facilities that function both as sources of income and as operations
centers for trafficking in humans and narcotics and extortion.221 Bangkok also is a major source
of the false documents and passports that support human trafficking operations.222
Its geographical location in the Golden Triangle makes Thailand a prime narcotics
trafficking route for heroin and methamphetamines. Thailand also is a center for trafficking in
218 Rose Tamayo, “Former Philippine Military Rebels Allegedly Supplying Arms to Abu Sayyaf,” Pilipino Star
Ngayon [Manila], August 31, 2000 (FBIS Document ID SEP20000831000062).
219 Donna S. Cueto, “Philippines: Source Traces Sipadan Abduction to Malaysian Drug Groups’ Rivalry,”
Philippine Daily Inquirer [Manila], August 10, 2000 (FBIS Document ID SEP20000810000065).
220 Pamintuan, 183.
221 “Report on Transnational Crimes in Thailand,” Matichon [Bangkok], March 23, 2000 (FBIS Document
SEP20000223000032).
222 “Malaysian Police Say Islamic Militants ‘May be Hiding on Thai Soil,’” The Nation, September 22, 2001 (FBIS
Document SET20010922000003).
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humans, money laundering, arms smuggling, and document forgery. The country’s
infrastructure is advanced enough to provide the communications and transportation that are key
requirements for the activities of Chinese organized crime groups. In addition, long-established,
widespread corruption among Thai government officials and police greatly eases the operating
conditions of crime syndicates and terrorist organizations.
Chinese organized crime activities are generally conducted in conjunction with Thai
illicit narcotics, which in turn spurs money laundering and arms trafficking.223 In 1984, Thai
authorities executed a crackdown on heroin trafficking routes throughout the country, reducing
the attractiveness of Thailand for that activity. However, an interdiction operation in Bangkok in
January 2000 confiscated more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of heroin bound for the United
States, revealing that the market is still quite active. The trafficking group accused in this case
was Thailand’s largest Chinese criminal group, the 14K triad.224
Besides heroin, Thailand’s most popular domestic drug is the cheap methamphetamine
known as “yaabaa” (mad pill) previously known as “yaamaa” (horse pill).225 Despite continued
government pressures, such narcotics have continued to flow in large quantities via obscure
routes across the Burma border into Bangkok.226 Although yaabaa is manufactured mainly by
domestic organizations in Burma, evidence shows that Chinese organized crime syndicates are
involved in the transport and distribution of amphetamines to the Thai narcotics industry. The
most prominent of these syndicates are the 14K triad and the Wa family, both of whom use
Bangkok as a commercial and trafficking base.227
The Chinese organized crime groups engaging in human trafficking, called the “Piglet
Gangs” by the Thai police,228 utilize the easy availability of false and stolen passports in
Thailand to transport immigrants from their home countries to Western countries. Since
document forgery and human trafficking are the purported expertise of Bangkok-based Chinese
223 Pasuk Phongpaichit, Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja: Thailand’s Illegal Economy and Public Policy (Bangkok:
Silkworm Books, 1998), 248–49.
224 “Thai Police Seize 126 KG of U.S.-Bound Heroin in Bangkok,” Bangkok Post [Bangkok], January 13, 2000
(FBIS Document ID FTS20000112001795).
225 Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy, “Drugs and War Destabilize Thai-Myanmar Border Region,” Jane’s Intelligence Review,
April 1, 2002, http://www.janes.com.
226 Chouvy, “New Drug Trafficking Routes.”
227 King-O Laohong, “Thai Daily Reports on Organized Crime by Foreign ‘Mafia’ Gangs,” Bangkok Krungthep
Thurakit [Bangkok], November 4, 2001 (FBIS Document SEP20011105000049).
228 Niu Lang, “Chinese Organized Crime in Thailand Viewed,” Mangu Shibao [Bangkok], May 19, 1999 (FBIS
Document ID FTS19990519002227).
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groups, Bangkok has become a significant transit center for human trafficking.229 Various
syndicates are involved at this center. The Chinese Wang Kao Niu gang, which formerly
dominated the trafficking of women from locations in China to Bangkok to work as
prostitutes,230 was usurped by the Chinese criminal leader Lao Chai, an associate of the 14K
triad.231 The Sun Yee On triad, also well established in Thailand, is known to utilize the easy
passport market to assist in its transport of prostitutes to Japan in cooperation with the Yakuza,
Japan’s mafia criminals.232 As a developing city with an international airport hub, Bangkok
offers the level of technology required for document falsification, an abundance of authentic
passports that can be altered, and a wealth of customers and willing and unwilling participants in
human trafficking operations.233
As a regional air transportation hub, Bangkok also functions as a transit base for the
smuggling of arms. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) use the city as a transit point
for arms en route to their home base in Sri Lanka.234 The LTTE continues to procure arms from
arsenals abandoned after Cambodia’s civil war and via Cambodia from sources in the China’s
military and Chinese organized crime groups. Although Cambodia’s lack of a strong police force
and judicial system makes that country ideal for arms trafficking, Thailand is the lynchpin of the
LTTE network. The factors in that preference are Thailand’s proximity to Sri Lanka, the Bay of
Bengal, Burma, and Cambodia; its strong communications infrastructure; and the ease with
which illegal commodities can cross its borders.235 Reportedly, the bribery of border officials is
standard procedure.236 Some arms arrive in Thailand by sea from Chinese plants such as
Norinco and Poly Technology. Land routes cross into Thailand from Cambodia and Laos, and
sea routes cross the Gulf of Thailand from the Cambodia-Thailand border to points in southern
Burma.
229 “Report on Transnational Crimes in Thailand.”
230 Laohong.
231 Laohong.
232 “Triad, Yakuza Linked to Forced Prostitution,” Daily News [Bangkok], January 25, 1995 (FBIS Document
FTS19970508000874).
233 “Thailand ‘Source of Fake Passports,” Bangkok Post [Bangkok], June 21, 2002, http://scoop.bangkokpost.com.
234 “Special Report-Case Study: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,” Jane’s Intelligence Review,” October 1,
2001, http://www.janes.com.
235 Anthony Davis, “Tamil Tigers Continue Procurement,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, May 1, 2002,
http:\\www.janes.com.
236 Suthep Chaiviwan, “Gun Running: Transit to Terror,” Bangkok Post [Bangkok], 14 July 2002 (FBIS Document
SEP20020714000011).
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Chinese organized crime syndicates operating from Bangkok long have used Thailand’s
banks and shops to launder profits from narcotics, the sale and transport of humans to
prostitution rings, and trafficking in illegal migrants. Thailand’s cities offer varying opportunities
to launder funds from illicit activities. Those engaged in money laundering can simply carry
large amounts of cash with them as they travel, then deposit their money in local banks that
maintain discretion in business matters. Front companies and wire transfers also offer protection
for laundering operations.237 As of mid-2002, Thailand’s Criminal Procedure Code and money-
laundering law contained serious flaws that prevented effective action against terrorist
organizations. As the law stands, terrorism is not a criminal offense and the national Anti-Money
Laundering Office does not have the authority to investigate or block the transfer of funds to
finance terrorism.238 Although the national parliament has discussed improvements, the
enactment of meaningful reforms has proved politically complex.
The continued influx of Chinese gangs and syndicates into Thailand has produced a
series of turf wars between the dominating Wong Koon Wah, leader of the 14K, and smaller
groups fighting over territory in Thailand and sections of neighboring Cambodia.239 Bangkok’s
Rachada Road, reportedly the home base for these rival gangs, has seen increased violence in
recent years.240
CONCLUSION
In the past decade, law enforcement authorities in many countries have come to the
conclusion that the transnational activities of ethnic Chinese criminal groups constitute a serious
threat to the societies where such groups have gained a foothold. Those societies are now found
on every continent because criminal groups arise in virtually all the major centers of ethnic
Chinese population worldwide. Chinese groups have been extremely efficient in creating loose,
flexible multinational structures that often are linked with legitimate business enterprises; in
exploiting weaknesses in the law enforcement systems of individual countries; and in coercing
237 Pisan Mookjang, “Current Situation and Countermeasures Against Money Laundering in Thailand,” Asian and
Far Eastern Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Resource Material Series [Tokyo],
no. 58 (December 2001), www.unafei.co.jp.
238 Surath Jinakul and Songpol Kaopatumtip, “Towards a Terror-Free Thailand,” Bangkok Post [Bangkok], June 2,
2002 (FBIS Document SEP20020602000027).
239 Surath Jinakul, “Invasion of the Triads,” Bangkok Post [Bangkok], November 7, 1999 (FBIS Document ID
FTS19991107000013).
240 Laohong.
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otherwise law-abiding members of the Chinese communities of many countries to carry out
specific tasks such as supporting illegal migrants.
Unlike more formally structured ethnic criminal groups, the Chinese groups exist in
many forms, from small street gangs to transnational triads with branches worldwide. The most
universal criminal activity of the Chinese groups, trafficking in human beings, takes advantage
of an endless demand, relatively light legal penalties, and a worldwide network of transit points,
from the Pacific Coast of Russia to Guatemala. Besides being relatively risk-free and quite
profitable, this activity expands the émigré communities that are the foundation of both human
trafficking and other forms of crime in host countries.
Library of Congress – Federal Research Division Transnational Chinese Crime
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APPENDIX
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THE EIGHT LARGEST CHINESE CRIMINAL GROUPS
Experts have identified eight major Chinese crime groups, most of which are “umbrella groups”
that include several branches in various parts of the world. An eighth group, Red Sun, has been
identified in most major European countries. Of the organizations listed, four are traditional
triads with roots before the 20th century. The others have adopted some of the triads’ rituals and
membership requirements.
Big Circle
Originated in the late 1960s from a group of purged or imprisoned Red Guard soldiers who
initially engaged in armed robberies. (The name refers to the designation of prisons on Chinese
maps of that period.) After expanding operations successfully into Hong Kong from its mainland
bases, diversified its criminal activities and became prosperous. Key members emigrated to
Canada, South America, and the United States, establishing operations in those countries and
ultimately diversifying into credit card fraud, counterfeiting, and trafficking humans and
narcotics. Now one of the largest and most successful Chinese crime groups in the world.
Organized in cells, some with their own names. Although not a traditional triad group, includes
substantial numbers of triad members and has secret membership rites.241 Estimated membership
5,000.
Four Seas Gang
Next to United Bamboo, the largest Taiwanese group. Developed in stages similar to those of
United Bamboo (hence not a true triad). Engages in a variety of activities similar to that of
United Bamboo, but is less widely distributed. Known to cooperate with United Bamboo and
with Taiwan intelligence agents.242 In the United States, operates mainly in Los Angeles. Taiwan
organization reportedly disbanded in 1997 under amnesty program, but still active elsewhere in
2000. Estimated membership 5,000.243
14 K
A triad based in Hong Kong, with members mainly of Cantonese origin. More than 20,000
members in 30 subgroups, including more than one in some countries. In Hong Kong, the main
rival of the Sun Yee On triad. Was also established in Taiwan by a Kuomintang general and
retains a substantial presence in Taiwan, including ties with Kuomintang Party. Is present in
Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Russia, Slovakia, Southeast Asia, the United States, and all
West European countries.244 Heavy involvement in narcotics trafficking in most areas where
found.
241 Huston, 109–10.
242 Huston, 108–9.
243 Bolz.
244 Faligot, 10, “Chinese Triads.”
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Luen Group
Based in Hong Kong, with primarily Cantonese membership. Divided into four subgroups: Luen
Lok Tong, Luen Tei Ying, Luen To Ying, and Luen Ying She .245 Along with the 14K, the first
triad to begin criminal activity in Canada. Canadian branch, which is based in Toronto and
associated with triad groups in the United States, calls itself Luen Kung Lok.246 Also present in
Benelux. Estimated membership of Luen Ying She: 5,000.247
Red Sun
Not a traditional triad; possibly a mafia originally constituted on the European continent. Active
in Austria, Benelux, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy (Florence, Milan,
and Rome), Russia, Slovakia, and Spain. In Italy, specializes in extortion, rackets, and trafficking
in migrants from Zhejiang Province; in Paris, narcotics trafficking and money laundering. At
least some of leadership from Zhejiang Province.248
Sun Yee On
By far the largest of the traditional Chinese triads, with an estimated 56,000 members
worldwide. Based in Hong Kong, with several branches. United States subgroups located in Los
Angeles, Miami, New York City, and San Francisco, with association in New York City with
Tung On gang. Currently considered the most dangerous triad in Hong Kong, with large
nightclub, prostitution, counterfeiting, and narcotics processing operations in Hong Kong and
trafficking operations moving people and a wide variety of commodities. One of the two largest
Chinese criminal groups in Canada. Also present in Austria, the Benelux countries, France,
Germany, Great Britain, Russia, and Spain, as well as Australia, Japan, and Thailand.249
United Bamboo
Founded in 1956 as a Taiwanese youth gang, whose members matured to use connections with
Kuomintang officials as protection for an increasing range of crimes. Although fundamentally
disorganized, gained substantial power in the island’s vice, gambling, extortion, and other
rackets. After reorganizing itself on the model of traditional Chinese tongs in the 1970s, became
the most influential criminal group in Taiwan and retains that position today. Key members
emigrated to Canada, the United States, South America, and elsewhere to escape arrest,
establishing chapters in many countries with ties to Taiwan. Commits a diverse range of crimes
and has links with many non-Chinese criminal groups.250 Has worked with Taiwanese
intelligence agents. Estimated membership 20,000.
245 Faligot, 344.
246 Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “Beneath the Dragon’s Shadow: Canadian Investigators Face Off with Hong
Kong Triads.”
247 Faligot, 10, 345.
248 Faligot, 10, 127–29.
249 Faligot, 10, 345; “Chinese Triads,” http://www.geocities.com/leixiaoji/Triads.
250 Huston, 105, 108.
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Wo Group
Based in Hong Kong, a triad that includes at least 12 branches present in Western countries,
including Wo Shing Wo (in Benelux, France, Germany, and Portugal) Wo Hop To (in San
Francisco), and Wo On Lok (in Benelux).251 Members from different branches of the Wo group
cooperate readily in criminal enterprises, although not sharing rituals or other features of their
particular secret society. In Hong Kong, has had territorial wars with Sun Yee On. Members
mainly of Cantonese origin. Estimated membership 20,000.
COUNTRIES WHERE THE EIGHT MAJOR CHINESE TRIADS AND OTHER
CRIMINAL GROUPS ARE OPERATING
Australia
14K, Sing Wa, Sun Yee On, Wo Hop To, Wo Shen Yee
Austria
Big Circle, 14K, Red Sun, Sun Yee On, United Bamboo
Benelux
Big Circle, 14K, Luen group, Red Sun, Sun Yee On, United Bamboo, Wo On Lok, Wo Shing
Wo
Canada
Big Circle, Luen Kung Lok, Sun Yee On, United Bamboo, Wo Hop To, Wo On Lok
Czech Republic and Slovakia
Big Circle, 14K, Red Sun
Denmark and Sweden
14K
France
Big Circle, 14K, Red Sun, Sun Yee On, Wo Shing Wo
251 Faligot, 10; “Chinese Triads”; Stormont.
Library of Congress – Federal Research Division Transnational Chinese Crime
- 66 -
Germany
14K, Red Sun, Sun Yee On, Wo Shing Wo
Great Britain and Ireland
Big Circle, 14K, Red Sun, United Bamboo, Wo Shing Wo
Italy
14K, Red Sun
Japan
14K, Sun Yee On, Wo Hop To
Latin America
Fa Yen, Sun Yee On
Philippines
Big Circle, 14K
Portugal
14K, Wo Shing Wo
Russia
Big Circle, 14K, Red Sun, Sun Yee On
Southeast Asia
14K, Sun Yee On, Wo Shing Wo
Spain
14K, Red Sun, Sun Yee On
Thailand
14K, Sun Yee On
Library of Congress – Federal Research Division Transnational Chinese Crime
- 67 -
United States
Big Circle, 14K, Sun Yee On, United Bamboo, Wo Hop To
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