In August 2012 a chartered plane brought 37 Chinese citizens living in Angola back to China in handcuffs, to face charges ranging from kidnapping, robbery to extortion. A special Chinese police force had been sent to Angola at the request of the Luanda government to help deal with the spiralling problem of organised crime affecting the Chinese community in the country. The police force acted on local intelligence and swiftly broke up the activities of several Chinese gangs.
Angola has one of the biggest Chinese expat communities on the continent, and complaints of extortion by Chinese gangsters appear to be growing, if protection money is not paid, threats are made, which lead to property being damaged, to finally businessmen getting taken hostage and ransoms demanded. Allegations included victims having petrol being poured over victims and then burned – or even buried alive. Chinese businessmen do not like to involve the local authorities, and the closed nature of their communities benefits the criminals who know their compatriots will not talk. Angolan and other local police forces find it difficult to investigate the crimes because of the language barrier and the self-sufficiency of the communities, not to mention that they have plenty of other problems to solve.
The massive wave of Chinese migration that has accompanied its globalisation push is increasingly well documented, a recent book, China’s Silent Army has covered the phenomena in some detail. With Chinese investment and trade comes the movement of Chinese people , either to build infrastructure or run mines and factories. Increasing numbers are moving to escape the super -competitive conditions at home and make a new start abroad, people like the clothing wholesalers I met in Casablanca, who imported cheap clothing and toys from China and sold them onto shopkeepers throughout Morocco. But wherever Chinese people have moved, criminals have often seen the chance to follow them and create their own opportunities.
In 2010 the sacking of Secretary of State Romeu Tuma Junior for his alleged connection with the Chinese mafia came as a major shock to Brazilian politics. His arrest came at time when Chinese – Latin American trade has rapidly increased and Chinese criminals have been at the cutting edge, eyeing opportunities from human trafficking, counterfeit goods and trade with the cartels that dominate crime across the continent. Pirated goods are in big demand in Latin America – everything from bootlegged software, branded clothing, music and fake luxury goods. Made en masse in China these goods are shipped over, easily hidden in cargos and then distributed through Chinese traders and shopkeepers across Latin America. There is also evidence of collaboration between the powerful Mexican cartels and the Chinese criminal groups – supplying them with Chinese made weapons and chemicals for making narcotics .
Chinese gangs have also become involved in the trade of food and wildlife, exporting abalone from South Africa and importing methamphetamine for the South African market – an addictive form of speed. There are also allegations of their involvement in illegal gold mining and diamond operations as well as wildlife crime across the continent. Chinese gangs come in a number of guises – Triads, Tings and other names. The Triads also allegedly have connections to Chinese intelligence, such as the official Ministry of State Security (MSS), a key player in economic intelligence, using front companies to acquire technology. There are also connections to the intelligence arm of the People’s Liberation Army, which has a large number of its own firms from manufacturing, to aircraft and mines. Triads are heavily enmeshed with local Chinese communities abroad – and so can provide useful information on opportunities for the State to use, in return no doubt not asking too many difficult questions about how they make their own money.
The presence of Chinese organised crime is a challenge to the African authorities, but also to the Chinese government, who will be under pressure to act against the criminals or face damage to China’s reputation that their activities entail.