thrives in Europe By Emanuele Scimia
It is a fact: Chinese criminal syndicates
based in Europe are increasingly thriving in their
business, notably by means of a successful
hybridization with indigenous organized crime
groups. The phenomenon is impacting the Old
Continent as a whole, with Italy and Spain the
most affected countries.
2012, Italian law enforcement officials uncovered
a criminal organization run by Chinese residents
with the help of some local white collar workers.
In the space of a few years, the criminal outfit
had created a real estate and commercial empire in
the district of Venice, northeast Italy, by
investing proceeds from human trafficking and
forced prostitution of illegal immigrants from
Two months before the Sino-Italian
criminal ring was disbanded, a Chinese organized
crime ring was smashed in Spain. More than
80 people were arrested on
charges of money-laundering, sex trafficking and
extortion. The crime syndicate had allegedly
laundered US$200 million annually for years, money
that it had garnered by dodging custom duties on
imported goods from China.
Chinese communities scattered throughout the world
are the real power base of criminal networks
managed by their compatriots. Chinese enterprises
in Europe keep up robust bonds with their
motherland. They often serve as hubs for
counterfeit goodsd sourced from mainland China and
Hong Kong and are the natural outlet for the labor
force emigrating from their country to the Old
The migratory flux from China
is strongly conditioned by crime syndicates'
needs, according to annual reports from the
European law enforcement agency Europol and
Italy's Anti-Mafia National Directorate.
Paolo Borsellino, a famous Italian
anti-mafia prosecutor, who in 1992 was victim of a
car bombing attack plotted by the Cosa Nostra
criminal organization, used to say that "politics
and mafia are two powers aiming to control the
same territory: they either fight one another or
come to terms".
words, and adapting them to the dynamics
concerning the balance of power among competitive
trans-national criminal organizations, it seems
that Chinese crime organized groups in Europe have
chosen to come to terms with local mafias rather
than antagonizing them, much as they are doing in
Latin America with Mexican drug cartels.
Chinese and European criminal
organizations have built their profitable joint
ventures on the import of counterfeit products
(especially garments, pharmaceuticals, software,
compact discs, movies, luxury products and toys).
Fake goods produced in China usually arrive in
Europe after passing through free-trade zones in
the United Arab Emirates. Chinese counterfeit
goods that go across the Black Sea are often
stored in some countries of the Western Balkans
ahead of entering the seaports of Western Europe.
For smuggling their bogus goods into
Europe, the Chinese gangs can also use Chinese
companies established in North Africa, exploiting
loopholes in the preferential trade regime the
European Union (EU) has granted to all North
African countries but Libya. Chinese crime groups
seized on an EU move in 2011 that eased rules of
origins for manufactured products hailing from
In this regard, in 2012 the
African Development Bank raised concerns about the
prospect that Chinese enterprises in North Africa
- whose numbers are growing steadfastly year after
year - could export to Europe goods produced in
China with the deceptive trademark of African
countries: a damage for both European consumers
and local manufacturers.
The Camorra and
Ndrangheta, two criminal groups that have
overtaken the Cosa Nostra as the most powerful
Italian mafias, have joined forces with their
Chinese counterparts while facilitating the
illegal entry of counterfeits via several
container-terminal ports in southern Italy such as
Naples, Salerno, Gioia Tauro and Taranto.
In 2010, the Italian revenue police
defeated two money-laundering outfits that since
2006 had illegally transferred US$3.5 billion to
China. The criminal network was led by Chinese
nationals who smuggled fake fashion producs into
Eastern Europe from their base in Italy.
The Italian government has tightened
customs clearance laws, and fake products coming
from China have been flowing into Europe through
alternative seaports such as Hamburg and Bremen in
Germany and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Spain is
yet another destination for illegal smuggling of
Chinese-made goods, with Valencia the main entry
harbor of textiles.
The economic crisis
has thus far represented a great opportunity for
Chinese gangs operating in Europe, but there are
signs that it could backfire on them. Their power
base is slowly shrinking, with Chinese immigrants
abandoning recession-hit Italy and Spain and going
back home. But some are moving on to Canada, South
America and even Africa (where the oil-rich Angola
is the top destination), the Financial Times and
Italian daily Corriere della Sera have recently
Immigrants from China seek their
fortune elsewhere, and probably some Chinese
mobsters are expected to follow suit. That will be
nothing new in the history of organized crime
groups, whose propagation has always gone hand in
hand with the flux of overland and overseas
migrations, towards a new land of opportunity.
Emanuele Scimia is a journalist
and geopolitical analyst based in Rome.
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