COMMENT Asian money launderers sent
region-wide warning By Avi
Law enforcement officials in
China, Taiwan, Myanmar, Thailand and the
Philippines have launched a blitzkrieg targeting
money launderers who have been swindling and
blackmailing average citizens throughout Asia to
the tune of millions of dollars.
criminals, part of a transnational syndicate,
began squeezing funds from companies and
individuals in 2007. Phoning their intended
victims and claiming to be speaking on behalf of
the police, they informed them that their bank
accounts were being abused by money launderers and
terrorist organizations, then instructed them to
transfer funds to "safe accounts" that were in
fact controlled and
owned by the syndicate.
According to Liu
Ancheng, deputy director of China's Criminal
Investigation Bureau (CIB), they then withdrew the
money via local ATMs in Taiwan and Thailand.
In late May, after a two-year
investigation, law enforcement authorities
arrested 482 people from Myanmar, China, Taiwan,
and Thailand. Ultimately, they will be accused of
defrauding victims of funds totaling 73 million
yuan (US$11.5 million) in at least 510 cases.
Originally, the group operated out of the
Chinese mainland. Following a crackdown there in
2010, operations were move to various locations
throughout Asia, including Myanmar, Cambodia,
Indonesia, Fiji, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and
Thailand. According to the CIB, the group
attracted recruits by promising high salaries and
tourist visas and supplying specialized fraud
According to the Philippines
police, authorities got one of their big breaks in
the case when they tracked and geospatially
located the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of
the gang, which made its calls using voice over
IP. The criminals reportedly worked in cells that
carried out the various aspects of the operation:
phone calls; maintenance of the telecom network's
servers and equipment; and withdrawing,
transferring, and eventually, laundering money.
To capture the group, China engaged in
unprecedented law enforcement cooperation with
Taiwan - staggering in and of itself, since
Beijing still considers Taiwan to be sovereign
Chinese territory - and six other countries. The
CIB has publicly asked other law enforcement
agencies for help in tracking those in Asia and
Oceania outside its own jurisdiction who are
involved in telecrime.
At this juncture,
international cooperation is "important to crack
down on telephone fraud groups", according to Yang
Dong, deputy director of China's criminal
governments throughout Asia and Oceania do to stop
telefraud and money laundering? While global
organizations, such as INTERPOL, have an important
role to play, it is time for forward-thinking
Asian governments to create ASIAPOL as a smaller,
more robust, regional association. Europe has
EUROPOL, a law enforcement agency whose primary
mission is to fight international crime and
terrorism. ASIAPOL should fight human smuggling,
counterfeiting, terrorism, drug trafficking, money
laundering, organized crime, and the like.
Asian countries should also systemically
roll out bilateral police cooperation agreements
that would, among other measures, fight identity
theft, phishing schemes, and fraud. As a
corollary, law enforcement attaches assigned to
select embassies around the region should be
encouraged to help their host nations crack down
on criminal activities sponsored by nationals from
their home jurisdictions.
money is another crucial tool in capturing
criminals, but law enforcement agencies must
aggregate and sort through financial intelligence
in a smarter way. There are countless pieces of
financial information filed internationally by a
wide variety of sources, including banks, money
service businesses, and individuals.
enforcement and intelligence analysts must become
proficient in the innovative intelligence and
financial tools developed in the last decade,
including geospatial and network analysis tools,
to attack criminal networks and uncover the
financial links among them.
Tools such as
Palantir, Analyst's Notebook, ArcGIS, and Google
Earth make it easier to manage and sort through
vast reams of data and facilitate tracking of
financial flows and smuggling routes.
Nevertheless, many government officials do
not use them and are not even aware that they
exist. Ignoring these innovations hampers their
ability to capture and put behind bars members of
international crime syndicates, triads, and other
should focus on tightening their laws regarding
jail time and fines for those engaging in
telecommunications fraud. China, for example, has
taken telefraud seriously, and sentences for this
type of crime now range from three to 10 years.
A sentence of life in prison is also
considered if the amount involved is over 500,000
yuan and the fraud results in someone's death.
Keeping in mind the need to also balance human
rights and basic liberties, other governments who
wish to mitigate this emerging risk should
consider following suit.
The criminals are
getting better, faster, and smarter at their
trade. This should force law enforcement officials
to think beyond national borders and increase
intelligence sharing capabilities. Lawmakers will
also need to do their part by instituting
appropriate penalties. All of this is critical for
protecting and defending average citizens.
Avi Jorisch, a former US
Treasury Department official, is a Senior Fellow
for Counterterrorism at the American Foreign
Policy Council in Washington, DC.