Thursday, October 11, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Chinese Organized Crime a ‘Real Threat’ in Russian Far East, Study Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 11 – Because of economic difficulties and massive corruption in the Russian Federation, Chinese organized crime “exerts a powerful influence on all spheres of social life [and] threatens the security of the state and society” in the Russian Far East and more generally, according to the final results of a major study prepared in Vladivostok.

            As posted yesterday by the Vladivostok Center for Research on Organized Crime, the 80-page study documents how Chinese criminal groups have become “not only violating the normal functioning of social and economic institutions” but also represent “a serious threat to the the entire world community” (

            The study was prepared by a research group under the direction of the center’s S.E. Lelyukhin, and its preliminary findings were approved by scholars at an inter-regional roundtable in May 2011 on “Transnational Criminal Challenges to Security” in the Asian-Pacific region.

            Although Lelyukhin notes that Russian law enforcement bodies have “an extraordinarily difficult time” in penetrating Chinese criminal groups and thus documenting their nature, he provides a wealth of evidence. Indeed, this study may be the most comprehensive yet on the subject.

            Among the topics covered are the specific character of Chinese organized crime in the Russian Federation, the directions and methods of Chinese organized criminal groups in the Russian Far East in particular, “and also the factors which have promoted the increasing activity [of such groups] under contemporary conditions.

            The study draws the following conclusions.  First, while there are many small Chinese criminal groups operating in the Russian Far East, the large international Chinese organized crime families such as Big Circle, 14K, Red Sun and Sun Yee On are the most important in Russia as well as elsewhere on the Pacific rim.

            These large groups “specialize in the carrying out of the most complicated and largest criminal operations including contraband and the distribution of narcotics, smuggling of goods, the organization of illegal migration, fraud in the financial sphere and the laundering of ‘dirty’money.”

            Second, over the last two decades, Chinese organized crime has grown rapidly in response to economic problems and corruption in Russia and at tempos exceeding the growth of the Chinese diaspora in Russia.  Third, there is “an increasing tendency for Chinese and Russian organized crime to work together.”

            Fourth, “the high level of conspiracy within Chinese criminal organizations and their orientation toward the members of the Chinese diaspora” in the first instance makes it especially difficult for those Russian law enforcement agencies committed to opposing them to gain information about their activities.

            And fifth, Lelyukhin continues, the main directions of Chinese organized crime in the Russian Far East are clear: the export of raw materials from Russia to China, the illegal importation of Chinese consumer goods into the region, money laundering and extortion, the organization of illegal immigration and human trafficking.

            Taken all together, he argues, Chinese organized crime “has become a real threat to the economic security (both because of its size and because of its destructive influence) to the Russian Far East.” 

            But combatting Chinese organized crime requires acknowledging, the Vladivostok scholar goes on to say, that its growth in Russia “to a large extent” reflects problems in Russian administration and the economy and “the colossal financial resources” that such groups can deploy to achieve their ends.

            Russia’s relatively open borders next to over-populated regions of China is “one of the factors which has stimulated the growth of migration processes, including illegal ones, and thus serves to promote the formation of ethnic criminal structures” who prey on the diaspora and then move into the Russian community itself.

            Moreover, Lelyukhin writes, “the negative tendencies of the development of the national economy, in the first instance the high level of the criminalization of the economy and the corrupt nature of some government employees” has allowed the Chinese criminal groups to assume control over areas, like the export of raw materials, they cannot achieve elsewhere.

            Lelyukhin proposes that the Russian authorities counter Chinese organized criminal groups by recognizing that the fight against them cannot be won by short-term campaigns but must continue for a long period, by forming special units, with Chinese language capability, to fight these groups, by using “political levers” on Beijing to secure its cooperation in this fight, by tightening border controls, and by “concluding between Russia and the Chinese Peoples Republic a bilateral treaty" to share in moneys confiscated from these criminal groups.


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