Organised crime and punishment around the world

August 11, 2020

The world is a very different place from what many people know and imagine. There is a seedy underworld with stories that may seem to come directly from a movie script where underlings lose fingertips and snipers speed around on the back of motorcycles to take out threats to their territory.

Behind closed doors in certain countries, where mobs break kneecaps and fit people for cement shoes, organised crime takes many more forms. While money laundering or loan sharks come standard, drugs, arms or human trafficking are used to pay the bills.

Casinos, both the legal and illicit kind, are one of the more obvious fronts for organised crime. There is just something obvious about the easy access to money for laundering and the 24-hour nature of establishments to make sure that gangsters rarely have to hide. But other legit companies have been known to host mob bosses and crime rings. From undertakers to nail salons and everything in between, what you see isn’t always what you get.

According to Interpol, which has an Asia-Pacific Expert Group on Organised Crime that meets regularly to discuss crime trends and join forces with other regions, organised crime groups often have geographical, familial or ethnic links that span large areas.

At the root of all organised crime syndicates, tight, unbreakable connections, whether through family or geographical location, promote devotion and loyalty to such an extreme that the line between right and wrong is blurred.

Speaking of Asia

Macau has long since been considered the Las Vegas of the East, and not only because of its wealth of casinos. With its gangs and turf wars, the city has seen its fair share of grisly killings and car chases. While Triads, which is Asia’s version of the Mafia, seems to have gone quiet for the last few years, the 14K gang is still renowned and feared amongst the residents.

Dating back to the 17th century where these Triads formed secret societies in rebellion of the Qing Dynasty’s harsh rule, many operated quietly and efficiently in South China until the Chinese Communist Party came into power in 1949. This caused factions to break off and head to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau where they could continue running their protection and extortion rackets as well as submerging themselves in the drug trade.

Like something straight out of a movie, the late 90s was a decade of vicious turf wars when the rivalry between the 14K and Shui Fong came to a head, and Macau became a center for shootings by professional hitmen on motorcycles who would attack their target in broad daylight, before speeding across the border to the protection of Mainland China.

Just last year, The New York Times reported an attack at a train station in Yuen Long where men with sticks and poles vented their anger on people who were returning from anti-government protests, raising fears of violence compounding political upheaval in the area.

Mr Lam, who was treated for cuts received in the attack, claimed that the local police did nothing to stop the attack and felt that they were working with the Triads.

Broken Tooth

Wan Kuok Koi AKA Broken Tooth

The former leader or dragonhead of the 14K Triad, Broken Tooth, who got his name after breaking his front teeth while crashing a stolen car, was immortalized in a 1998 movie about his life. Ironically, he was arrested and charged for illegal gambling, loan sharking, criminal association and the attempted murder of the Chief of Police, Antonio Marques Baptista using a car bomb, while watching the biopic.

Despite being sentenced to 15 years in prison, he only served 13 and was released on 1 December 2012.

For the most part, reports about the dramatic lives of gangs who boast having thousands of members continue to operate drug rackets, gambling, and prostitution rarely make it onto the evening news. Whether it is because crime rings have the police in their pockets or are so strategically connected that their activities can be hushed up, innocent members of the public are none the wiser when it comes to the seedier underbelly unless something so big happens, it can no longer be hidden.

Yakuza and Organised Crime

Dating back to the 1600s, legends of the yakuza originated from 2 separate outcast groups who lived and worked around that time. The tekiya, who were essentially gypsies, traveled from one village to the next, hawking their poor quality products at markets and festivals.

The second group were the bakuto, or gamblers, who took to highways to fleece innocent bystanders in hanafuda card games or games of dice. Known for their full-colour, full-body tattoos, this tradition continues today and tattoos are done using bamboo or steel needles, rather than more modern tattoo tools.

The bakuto are said to remove their shirts when they play, to boastfully display their ink as an indication of their bravery and high pain threshold.

As gamblers, their crime of choice naturally expanded into a business of loan sharking and protection rackets, and members tend to lose tips of fingers if they displease their boss.

Called Yubitsume, the guilty party severs the top joint of his left pinkie and presents it to the gang boss as a token of an apology for defying or displeasing him. Further transgressions lead to additional amputations until the lesson is learned.

Yakusa ImageThe custom originates back to Tokugawa times when the amputation would lead to the gang member having a weaker grip on his sword. In doing so, this left him more dependent on the rest of the group for protection. Today, in order to avoid being conspicuous, some gangsters use prosthetics to hide these indications of their weaknesses.

Yakuza syndicates still operate today and are known to have between 15,000 and 20,000 members. These gangs are known to run international human trafficking rings, and smuggle drugs and illegal weapons.

As they also hold large portions of stock in massive, legitimate corporations, they have links to the Japanese business world, banking and real estate.

There has, however, been a massive crack down on gang activity and in March 1995, Japan passed tough legislation to comprehensively prosecute gang members. The anti-racketeering bill was called the Act for Prevention of Unlawful Activities by Criminal Gang Members has given the police the right to arrest yakuza bosses and shut down any companies that can be tied to gang activity.

In the face of disaster, the yakuza are often the first to help the community. After the devastating earthquake in 1995, they were the first to come to the aid of those affected. It was the same after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, when different yakuza groups sent truckloads of supplies to the affected areas.

Many believe that it is unlikely that a crackdown will do much to eliminate these gangs completely. Given that they have survived for over 300 years and are very entrenched in Japanese culture, it won’t be easy to unravel the ties that bind.

Armenian Expansion

Thought to be spread all across Europe, the Armenian Mafia is known to have role players in Germany, France and Spain who are at the root of drug trafficking in the country.

In 2014, a shooting revealed the existence of the conspiratorial group to the public when 2 men were arrested after the Criminal Police Office of the Federal Land of Thüringer found them in possession of 35 kilograms of marijuana.

Organised Crime Gangster

This resulted in the Federal Criminal Police Office, together with six other state police departments, setting up the Fight Against Thieves in Law Project, also known as Fatil.

The Federal Intelligence Service and Europol also got involved and the report on Fatil concluded that Armenian mafia really exists in Germany, possesses considerable financial resources together with other criminal groups from the former Soviet Union, and poses a threat to the law.

The French Gendarmerie have also discovered criminal activities in various towns throughout the region. From cigarette smuggling and extortion to money laundering, 21 suspects were arrested in recent years where cash, cigarettes, raw tobacco and weapons were seized.

Just 800 kilometers away, 15 people were detained by Spain’s Civil Guard on charges of tennis match-fixing where 50 electronic devices, credit cards, luxury vehicles and documentation related to the case were found.

And in 2018, National Police of Spain arrested 129 people from a Armenian criminal organization, and carried out 74 house searches. Among the criminals arrested were seven suspects, who were involved in drug trafficking, arms trade, tobacco smuggling, money laundering, corruption in sports bookmaking, and other property crimes committed throughout Europe.

The suspects had close ties with tennis, beach volleyball, basketball, and hockey players who were bribed to fix at least 20 sport matches.

Azerbaijani Pander

The Azerbaijani mafia is widely known for drug trafficking, mainly heroin throughout Russia, but they have quickly expanded on their mandate to include everything from fraud and extortion to prostitution and contract killing.

Azerbaijani gangs have also been known to use real estate as a means of money laundering.

Towards the end of the last century, ex-guerilla fighters and warlords joined refugees as they illegally immigrated to Russia where things went quiet for a while. Once the war ended however, the younger generation of impoverished Azerbaijanis living in Moscow and Russia found ways to make ends meet through crime given rise to a new wave of criminal activity in the former Soviet Union.

Chechen Clan

Known to be one of the largest ethnic organized crime groups next to the Russian mafia, Chechen gangsters rejected the thieves in law subculture and instead relied on the Teip.

The Teip is a Chechen or Ingush tribal organization or clan, self-identified through descent from a common ancestor or geographical location that has revenge for murder of a teip member or insulting of the members of a teip, as one of its rules.

At one stage, the Moscow branch of the Chechen Mafia was run by second hand car salesman Nikolay Suleimanov who made the majority of his profits through tax evasion.

More recently, in the chaos of war-torn Chechnya, insurgent armed forces turned to criminal activity to raise funds through kidnapping, oil theft and smuggling.

Georgia’s Godfather

Menacing Stock ImageOften thought of as the best organised and most ruthless criminal group, the head is rarely seen in public and reports to a “Godfather” who operates on an international level.

As a highly structured and hierarchical group, the leader is largely dependent on his ability to subordinate the independent groups of thieves under his control. Those groups of thieves then oversee smaller Georgian gangs and the pyramid scheme is rooted by the paying of tributes into the common fund.

Like many organized crime syndicates, their crime of choice tends to be drug, arms or human trafficking.

Chaddi Baniyan Burglars

The Chaddi Baniyan Gangs look a little different from other organised crime groups where they wander around towns in India, pretending to be beggars which presents the opportunity for them to spot houses they can rob.

Known to perform their attacks just wearing their underclothes, the gang attacks victims by tying them up and, if resisted, resort to murder using rods, axes, knives and firearms before moving onto the next town.

They have also been said to eat at the houses they attack and leave fecal matter as an act of dominance before exiting the scene of the crime.

Cyber Crime

While organised crime tends to operate within specific borders, the Internet has brought with it a whole new world of possibilities to manipulate and exploit innocent bystanders.

From identity theft and financial fraud to extortion, which has always been a modus operandi for many mafia groups, the access to information that is available through the world wide web means an opportunity for organised crime in the years to come.

Organised Crime Eradication

Cyber CrimeOrganised crime takes many forms across the world and, while most deeds are truly heinous, the biggest common factor is how unlikely it is that perpetrators will get properly prosecuted.

With suspected links to the police and often highly connected in political circles, there is very little chance that organised crime will ever comprehensively have a day in court. Gang members who try to leave find themselves without much choice because, while you are free to leave at any time, you are seen as a threat to those who stay.

While incarceration may offer some freedom and safety, those who choose to witness need protection to ensure they stay alive for long enough to have their say.

History is littered with unsolved crimes that run into dead ends until they are eventually glossed over and forgotten. Money makes the world go round and, if you have enough, you can get away with murder.