Since July 2006, the Chinese People's Liberation Army has discovered "4,112 fake military vehicles and 6,373 stolen or bogus military number plates," Xinhua reports.
Why the counterfeiting? Because vehicles with military plates don't have to pay for tolls or parking, and they're far less likely to get pulled over for speeding.
I wonder, what kind of vehicles are we talking about here? Tanks? APCs? Some clever Chinese fraudsters have already fabricated a Ferrari, so why not?
Bulgaria, the EU’s newest member state, is fast becoming one of Brussels' main headaches.
Back in January, corruption accusations grew so rampant around the country’s road construction projects that the EU froze all related funding until further investigation.
Then, less than a week after EU officials visited Sofia to warn against corruption and organized crime, a prominent businessman was shot twice in the head in the stairwell of his apartment building. Less than 24 hours later, a former mafioso turned novelist was also shot and killed while leaving a downtown café. Their deaths only add to the 150 or so mafia-style killings in Bulgaria since the fall of communism –- none of which have seen convictions.
Now, Bulgaria’s parliament has reported that its country’s problems extend far beyond the new EU border. Bulgaria’s National Security Agency has found that Bulgarian drug traffickers, who do a sizable business sitting on the fault line between Europe and Southwest Asia, have close links to Arab drug traders who, in turn, fund Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.
I’m all for the EU accession of Western Balkan states –- if nothing else because there is presently no other viable alternative for an economically and politically stable future in the region. But it's because of the lack of an alternative that accession standards have slipped as far as they have. And if the EU can’t hold Bulgaria on its commitment to anti-corruption standards, how will it ever manage the likes of Bosnia and Serbia?
I must admit, I'm puzzled as to why it's supposed to be such a big deal that Hillary Clinton's chief strategist Mark Penn (right) met with Bogotá's ambassador to Washington about the controversial U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
The key point to remember about this and other FTAs in Latin America is that they're much more about politics than they are about economics. Ninety percent of U.S. imports from Colombia have already been entering the United States without any tariff, thanks to prior agreements. Peterson Institute analyst Jeffrey J. Schott estimated in 2006 that any welfare gains (GDP boost) from a U.S.-Colombia FTA would be positive, but "relatively small" -- roughly half a percentage point for the Colombians, and a negligible amount for the United States. If anything, the agreement is about lowering Colombia's tariff barriers to U.S. goods, solidifying trade relations, and lowering the risk that President Álvaro Uribe's successor will have a different economic philosophy. So, claims by U.S. labor activists that the FTA would be bad for U.S. manufacturers are little more than dishonest fearmongering.
That said, I'm not on board with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab's hyperbole, either. Can it really be that the dangling FTA, not the drug war, is the root of Latin America's problems today?
Leaders in the hemisphere and Latin America have said that the single most destabilizing factor in Latin America today may be the U.S. Congress's failure to ratify the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. That is more destabilizing today than anything that Colombia's neighbor Venezuela is doing or threatening to do— and that is saying a lot.
FP Editor-in-Chief Moisès Naím explains:
At first sight, the scandals that brought down Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, and Klaus Zumwinkel, the former president of Deutsche Post (the German corporate behemoth), didn't seem to have much in common. Spitzer fell two weeks ago for hiring prostitutes; Zumwinkel, two weeks before that, for tax evasion. Yet there's a thread that binds them together: money laundering. Both men were brought down by a new system for tracking money that was created in reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks—but that has since spread its net far beyond jihadists.
See also Naím's commentary on how Ugly Betty explains the Latin American economy.
After years of championing the cause of former Iraqi employees of the Coalition Provisional Authority and pushing the United States to arrange their evacuation, The New Yorker's George Packer thinks he may have finally found the man for the job: recently arrested international arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Here's a modest proposal [...] why don't the American prosecutors eager to put Bout on trial cut a plea bargain in which he would use his worldwide cargo business to conduct an airlift like Britain's (and Denmark's last year), flying America's Iraqi friends in his fleet of Antonovs and Ilyushins across the world to Guam for processing and eventual resettlement. It would be a kind of community service on Bout’s part, atonement for his large role in worldwide atrocities over the past fifteen years and the beginning of his rehabilitation. It would also give the U.S. government a way to make up for using Bout as an arms trafficker to Iraq. It would save taxpayer dollars. And finally, after a year of delay and failure by American officials, we'd have a man eminently capable of getting the job done.
Packer's tongue is firmly in cheek here, but Bout is actually no stranger to humanitarian work. In Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun's 2006 FP story, "The Merchant of Death," the authors recount how Bout's planes have flown missions for the World Food Program, delivered supplies to tsunami-devastated Sri Lanka, and conveyed peacekeepers to Rwanda and Somalia. Ironically, these missions are what tipped authorities off to his illegal activities.
For more on the Bout arrest, check out our recent Seven Questions interview with Farah.
(Editor's note: Please see update at bottom.)
Do you have a Ph.D. from a well-regarded American university such as Harvard, Cornell, or Caltech? If so, don't go to Germany and put the title "Dr." on your business card, Web site, or résumé. It's illegal, and you could end up in prison for a year.
Under a 1930s law from Nazi times, only people with Ph.D.'s and medical degrees from German universities can use "Dr." as a title, though the law was amended in 2001 to include degrees from EU countries too. (There is a way for non-EU degree holders to apply for permission to use the titles, but apparently, it's not worth the trouble.)
Recently, seven Americans -- all researchers at institutes of Germany's prestigious Max Planck Society -- were investigated for title abuse. One was an astrophysicist with a Ph.D. from Caltech. Another, Ian Thomas Baldwin, has a Ph.D. from Cornell. His colleagues have been calling him "Prof. Dr. Baldwin" for a decade, but apparently, the law says he instead should be "Prof. Ian Thomas Baldwin, Ph.D., Cornell University." (It looks like his Web page is in compliance, thank goodness.)
Honorifics are taken quite seriously in Germany, reports the Washington Post. (If any of you who have lived in Germany know about this sensitivity, please feel free to leave a comment.) Fortunately, though, prosecutors have now recommended against filing charges, but the Americans could still face a civil fine.
Meanwhile, German officials recently suggested changing the law to allow the "Dr." title to be used by people with Ph.D.'s and medical degrees from U.S. universities, but only if the university is one of the approximately 200 accredited by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
It all raises the question: Do Germans with Ph.D.'s and medical degrees expect to be called "Dr." when living abroad?
Russia may have seen a terrific rise in crime since the breakup of the Soviet Union, but a women's prison in Siberia has been making the most of it. For almost 20 years now, prison UF-91/9 has held an annual beauty contest in which inmates compete for a tiara and the title of "Miss Spring."
Maria Yatskova, director of a documentary film about the prison and its pageants, describes the event:
The prison decided to invent its own rules with three categories - "Greek Goddesses", "Flower Gowns", and "Imaginary Uniforms", which lets inmates design their ideal prison uniforms of the future. Many women have never heard of the Greek myths or exotic flowers they portray onstage, but they learn from books provided by the staff… Several guards and unit chiefs judge the contestants on their appearance and creativity, crowning the winner with a tiara "Miss Spring" and two runners-up "Miss Charm" and "Miss Grace." News crews even broadcast the event on local TV."
In her film, aptly entited Miss Gulag, Yatskova tells the story of three inmate-contestants. Through their words, Yatskova explores the hardship and struggles of women from post-Soviet Russia's first generation, who were caught up in the side effects of Russia's market transition.
Miss Gulag premiered last year and has been appearing in festivals from Milan to Maine ever since. Check out the trailer here:
News this morning that "Merchant of Death" Viktor Bout, one of the world's top arms trafficker to guerillas and governments alike, has been arrested in Thailand. FP readers will be familiar with Bout from our profile of the notorious arms dealer, who made his fortune running guns and other illicit cargo for everyone from Qaddafi to the Pentagon.
Bout, who has openly been living the high life in Moscow for the past few years, is apprarently being held by Thai authorities on the basis of a U.S. DEA warrant accusing Bout of supplying guns to Colombia's FARC rebels. Given that attempts to capture Bout -- or at least disrupt his business -- have been hobbled by the lack of international enforcement mechanisms and toothless sanctions, it'll be interesting to see whether these charges stick and Bout's network is actually dismantled. Regardless, there are no doubt dozens of traffickers waiting in the wings to soak up Bout's clients. A formal announcement from the DEA is due today. Check back with us for rolling updates.
I'll bet you thought Nepal's glory days as a hippie destination were over:
A Sadhu (Hindu holy man) smokes ganja (marijuana) in a chillum (traditional clay pipe) as a holy offering from lord Shiva, Hindu god of creation and destruction during celebrations of the Maha Shivaratri festival at the Pashupatinath temple area in Kathmandu, on March 4, 2008. Thousands of sages and holy men visit Nepal's biggest hindu temple Pashupatinath during the Maha Shivaratri festival each year.
The Public Policy Institute of California has just issued a surprising new report finding that immigrants to the Golden State are far less likely to commit serious crimes than those who are native-born. The study finds that even though foreign-born residents make up 35 percent of California's population, they make up only 17 percent of those incarcerated. Among men aged 18-40, the most likely to commit crimes, immigrants make up an even lower percentage. Native-born Americans in that age group who were born in the Untied States are 10 times more likely to be in county or state prison than immigrants. Hopefully, the study will put some xenophobia to rest.
Three thieves, wearing dark clothes and ski masks, walked into the Emile Bührle Foundation, a private collection housed a couple of miles outside of Zurich's city center on the shore of Lake Zurich, around 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.... While one held a pistol and ordered visitors and staff members to lie on the floor in the main room of the museum, the two other men removed the four paintings from the wall.... Their total worth is estimated at $163 million.... After the theft, the men fled in a white car, with the trunk open and the paintings visible."
These guys didn't crack a 16-digit pin code or jerry-rig a pully system using shoelaces and chewing gum, mind you. They walked into a museum in central Zurich, in broad daylight, took four paintings off the wall, put them in their trunk, and drove away. I've seen stick-ups at my local DC-area 7-Eleven that were more elaborate. Shouldn't it be a tad more difficult to steal several hundred-million dollars worth of Van Goghs and Monets than it is to jack a Twinkie from the Quickie Mart?
You may already have seen this incredible photo from a fire in Ludwigshafen, Germany, an industrial town across the Rhein from Mannheim:
The photo instantly told a heartwarming, if tragic, story: Fire-trapped Family Throws Baby to Safety.
Nine people died in Sunday's blaze, and a further 60 were injured. But incredibly, the 11-month-old baby survived without injury. In recent days, though, the story has taken a darker turn. Speculation is growing that the fire was not an accident, but racially motivated arson aimed at Turkish or Turkish-origin families living in the building. The accusations have been aired prominently in the Turkish press, and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is reportedly meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel today about it. There is some suggestive circumstantial evidence that arson was the motive:
The police confirmed Wednesday that the apartment building had already been daubed with neo-Nazi graffiti before the fire. The word "Hass" ("hate") was written twice on the wall next to the entrance to a Turkish cultural center on the ground floor of the building, with the last two letters written in the style of the Germanic runes of Hitler's SS organization.
Investigators have yet to issue their findings, however. For Germany, this is an extremely delicate topic. There are an estimated 2.5 million ethnic Turks in Germany, a relatively large minority in a nationalistic country of about 82.5 million. The good news? In the most recent state elections in Hesse, voters appeared to reject a xenophobic campaign waged by the incumbent, a Merkel ally. Tensions, of course, could easy flare up as a result of this incident. Stay tuned.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime today released yet another report anticipating a bumper opium crop this year.
But I'm more interested in the report's finding that Afghanistan is also becoming the world's top center for marijuana cultivation. Eighteen percent of villages are planning to grow cannabis this year, a 5 percent jump over 2007.
The news reminded me of a story from awhile back about how Taliban fighters were using 10-foot-high marijuana forests for cover:
Guess there's going to be a lot more of that from now on. Perhaps it's time to try a different strategy?
The Guardian reports on a proposal by the FBI to setup an international database for "major criminals and terrorists":
The US-initiated programme, "Server in the Sky", would take cooperation between the police forces way beyond the current faxing of fingerprints across the Atlantic. Allies in the "war against terror" - the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand - have formed a working group, the International Information Consortium, to plan their strategy.
Here I was naively assuming that we already had a shared computer database for this type of thing. I mean, they really fax fingerprints nowadays?
Yet another black eye for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation:
Telephone companies cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals because of the bureau's repeated failures to pay phone bills on time, according to a Justice Department audit released Thursday.
Do you know what your children are cuddling?
A Chicago woman was sentenced to six months in prison for her role in an international counterfeit pharmaceutical drug network that federal authorities said had planned to distribute $8 million worth of tablets from Houston.
Amal Alrub, 28, was arrested in Houston in April after meeting with authorities and arranging to buy about 800,000 loose counterfeit Viagra tablets hidden in cardboard boxes filled with stuffed animals that were shipped from China.
It's a problem with global dimensions:
French customs officials yesterday said they intercepted a shipment of 224,000 fake Viagra and Cialis pills, worth $3.5 million, that was en route to Brazil from India.
The boxes were branded Powergra and Erectalis.
Erectalis? That's a dead giveaway. The secret to good pharmaceutical names is to invent a word that sounds vaguely like what the drug does, not one that is too literal.
One hundred and thirty-three countries around the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, and last year, only 25 actually carried out executions. On Tuesday, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a resolution to ban executions worldwide. It passed: The General Assembly voted 104-54 with 29 abstentions in favor of the resolution. Anti-capital punishment advocates are hailing the resolution as a major step to the abolition of the death penalty worldwide. Like all UNGA resolutions, the vote is nonbinding, but it does have the symbolic effect of demonstrating broad moral opposition to capital punishment—and it will no doubt help domestic activists who are working toward banning the death penalty in their own countries.
But despite the growing international trend toward abolition, a number of countries stood firm against the vote, including China, Iran, and the United States. Unsurprisingly, these three countries were also on FP's List this week examining the world's top executioners. Check it out.
Last week, I thought one of the few good things about United Russia's dominance in the Russian parliamentary elections might be that the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party would be shut out of the Duma. Parties needed to win 7 percent of the vote to be represented. Turns out the LDPR snuck in with 8.4 percent of the vote, just enough to win a seat for Andrei Lugovoi, prime suspect in the murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in November, 2006. Along with his Duma seat, Lugovoi will now enjoy immunity from prosecution in the Russian Federation. Litvinenko's widow Marina was apoplectic:
Now Mr Putin and Mr Lugovoi stand together as the emblem of Russia — the two people linked by a murder," she said in a written statement.
For what it's worth, British prosecutors say they have no plans to drop charges against Lugovoi.
While production costs for potent "B.C. bud" remain at around $2,000 Canadian per pound, the value of the American dollar has fallen to about $1.10 Canadian due to record public debt and the rise of India and China. This means that the backpacks of cash that regularly cross the Canadian border to buy pot have declined in purchasing power and its no longer worth the risks and costs for many smugglers. This is bad news for Canadian growers, who ship about 90 percent of their crop to the United States, as well as for their customers in the United States, who now have to pay a lot more or buy elsewhere. No wonder rappers are now flashing euros.
With the value of cross-border trade diminishing much faster than the risks from American authorities, a kind of ganja nationalism may be developing in British Columbia, where growing pot has been virtually legalized for some time. Alan Middlemiss, owner of the Holy-Smoke Culture Shop and Psyche-Deli in Nelson, B.C. sounds like some strange mix of the Dude from "The Big Lebowski" and Evo Morales:
We have a motto around here, and it's called Canadian pot for Canadian lungs," Middlemiss said. "We don't need the DEA blowback. We've got DEA helicopters over our gardens, and all this DEA money out of Washington being spent up in Vancouver. It's nuts."
But the big winners from all this are Mexican marijuana growers, who will likely step in to fill the gap (the peso is struggling as well), and Econ 101 professors at U.S. liberal arts colleges, whose students will soon be clamoring for answers.
(Hat tip: USA Today's On Deadline blog)
Chris Kraul of the Los Angeles Times reports from Bogotá, Colombia, on the U.S. war on drugs:
Interruptions of the flow of cocaine to the United States are causing street prices to rise, a sign that the "war on drugs" is working, the White House anti-drug chief said here Thursday.
John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told reporters that interdictions in Colombia, in other countries along cocaine transit routes and on the open seas were reducing drug supplies, according to data on price and purity gathered in 37 major U.S. cities.
As a result of reduced supply, street cocaine prices over the first nine months of the year rose to an average $136.93 per pure gram at the end of September, a 44% increase from January, he said. Price and purity data were supported by other measures, including reduced evidence of cocaine use as found in workplace tests, he said.
Kraul pours a heaping does of skepticism on the ONDCP's claims, unusual for a reported news story. But for some seriously heated debate on the drug war, you should watch FPTV's recent segment on Think Again: Drugs featuring David Murray, chief scientist at the ONDCP, and Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that is highly critical of U.S. policies in this arena. Check it out—it's must-see TV.
As mentioned in this morning's Brief, the town of Tuusula, Finland was the tragic site of school shootings Wednesday when an 18-year-old gunman shot and killed seven classmates and the principal of his school. Having been an exchange student in Finland many moons ago, I can imagine this coming as a huge shock to the Finns, whose violent crime rates are exceedingly low.
That said, Finland does have a robust gun culture. Any adult can own a handgun as long as it's registered with a shooting club. And just from my experience there, the gun culture is largely centered around hunting (reindeer meat*, anyone?) and target shooting. I personally knew more people who owned guns over there than I do in the United States, which makes me think that gun ownership is more concentrated here. Anyhow, Finland ranks third in the world in gun ownership, with 56 firearms per 100 people, compared to a whopping 90 in the United States and 61 in Yemen, which ranks second. That's according to this fantastic graphic by the Washington Post, which was tucked away on page A14 in today's paper:
Other surprises from this chart? Iraq has "only" 39 firearms per 100 people.
*UPDATE: Finnish reader Timo Riitamaa writes in—
People don't shoot reindeer, they shoot moose. Moose are wild animals.
Reindeers, while living freely in herds, are earmarked by their owners and killed by a butcher.
A major victory has been scored in war against opium cultivation in Afghanistan. In the Northern Province of Balkh, once home to 27,000 acres of poppies, opium cultivation has been nearly eradicated. Balkh's achievement can be attributed largely to stepped up enforcement, prosecution of poppy farmers, and the increasing prevalence of an alternative crop. And that crop is... marijuana.
As The New York Times reported Sunday, many farmers in Balkh are switching to cannabis, which has been cultivated in the region for over 70 years. Other than poppies, farmers say that cannabis is the only crop they can grow that will feed their families. Farmers can earn almost twice as much for the stuff as they do for an equal amount of legal crops like cotton. Balkh's tough-on-drugs governor, Atta Mohammed Noor, has held back so far, but he has no plans to allow the cultivation to continue:
Mr. Atta says he has a plan to eradicate cannabis next growing season. Farmers have begun to harvest their current crop, and officials say they do not want to destroy the farmers' livelihood without giving them time to plant an alternative.
"Marijuana is not difficult to control, like poppy," the governor said in an interview in October in his vast, opulent office in Mazar-i-Sharif. "It's very easy to eradicate. It's a very simple issue."
Perhaps, but that doesn't answer the question of why he would bother. Is it really worth spending Afghanistan's meager financial resources (and the United States' for that matter) trying to eradicate a profitable and non-harmful alternative to one of the country's greatest social ills? Atta says the province is still waiting for development money to help farmers grow alternative crops. That would be a good step of course, but in the meantime can we really justify punishing farmers for finding their own alternatives?
Balkh's farmers aren't the only ones thinking differently about Afghanistan's poppy problem. Last week the European Parliament endorsed a proposal to license a limited number of Afghan farmers to grow poppies for use in medicines, such as morphine. Similar schemes have worked in the past in Pakistan and Thailand. The idea is not without its problems. It would be hard to justify allowing one village to grow poppies while eradicating them in another. And even under the most optimistic projections, farmers would still earn far less legally then they would by selling to drug traffickers. Still, it's promising that some leaders are looking for creative new ways to, as Ethan Nadelman suggests, limit the harm caused by illegal drugs rather than perpetuating an endless war to eradicate them.
Crime does pay—in Italy, at least. According to a recently released annual report by Confesercenti, a major business association in Italy, the four main mafia groups in the country together earn about $126 billion a year (more than Italy's largest companies), amounting to an astonishing 7 percent of Italy's GDP. Most of the money is "earned" through drugs, extortion, loan sharking and prostitution, though the estimate excludes the revenues from the sale of drugs.
The mafia's negative impact has been felt throughout Italy's economy, though southern Italy remains the most affected region. More than one in five retailers fork over a share of their earnings to racketeers, and at least 150,000 businesses face loan sharking. For most firms, it's easier to just cut deals with mobsters rather than challenge them.
The mafia may be taking a bite out of the country's growth. Deterred by mafia activities, just one in ten of Italy's foreign investors set up companies in the south of the country. Leoluca Orlando, the former mayor of Sicily's Palermo, laments that were it not for organized crime, "we could be one of the most modern of European countries, with state-of-the-art social services and infrastructure." Maybe, but Italy's famous north-side divide has persisted for a long time; in many ways, the mafia is a symptom of broader social underdevelopment in the south and not merely a cause.
FPTV is back with a new episode, this time a look at the global war on drugs. It seems improbable, but many people are asking if drugs like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine should become legal. Watch the fireworks as Ethan Nadelmann, author of Think Again: Drugs and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance clashes with David Murray, chief scientist at the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy. Here's part 1 of 4 videos, in which Murray argues that "We are making major progress" in the drug war, while Nadelmann counters that the drug war is "a long, slow, devastating failure" that is as bad as Vietnam and Iraq.
Check out parts 2, 3, and 4 here.
A recent report out of Germany indicates that alcohol abuse by elite German soldiers in Afghanistan is rampant. Members of Germany's Kommando Spezialkräfte openly flout alcohol restrictions, drinking heavily and trading booze with U.S. troops for snippets of intelligence and helicopter rides, according to Der Spiegel. One U.S. soldier says beer is a "currency ... To us, the German beer supplies were Big Rock Candy."
And drinking is not limited to rank and file soldiers. The behavior of a drunken German colonel during mission briefings in Kandahar, for instance, prompted complaints from U.S. military officials.
The Germans aren't the only ones with substance-abuse problems. A report in the New York Times earlier this year found that "alcohol- and drug-related charges were involved in more than a third of all Army criminal prosecutions of soldiers" in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It's easy to dismiss the drinking as "boys will be boys" behavior. And you can't blame soldiers for having a drink or two, considering what they go through each day.
But if history is any guide, the heavy drinking could indicate low morale. During Vietnam, substance abuse was widespread and tied to frustration with progress and battlefield stress. This was also the case for the Soviet Union during its occupation of Afghanistan. Facing extended deployments, up to 50 percent of Red Army troops turned to drugs.
Last month, I attended a discussion on the state of the Iraq war. One panelist said the troops still believed in the fight because, unlike Vietnam, they had not yet turned to drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, these reports suggest otherwise.
Mike Nizza reports that sea piracy is on the rise again after a brief dip in attacks. Piracy is especially a growing problem off the coasts of Somalia and Nigeria. Here's one thing Nizza misses, however, in citing an otherwise-interesting piece in National Geographic:
The National Geographic article recognizes the sea-crime decline in the Straits of Malacca, but then says “it is unclear how long the cash-strapped Indonesian navy will maintain its current level of vigilance.” Not to mention that navies are built and trained mainly for war, not for policing shipping channels.
We're not exactly talking about a blue-water navy here. Think dinghies, not destroyers. In any case, keeping shipping channels safe and open is definitely within the purview of sovereign navies. Remember Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary pirates?
As for the formerly pirate-infested Straits of Malacca, part of the problem was that the Indonesian navy was likely complicit in many of the pirate attacks in the first place. As an article in Strategic Comment, the journal of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, put it in 2004, "anecdotal evidence suggested that elements of these same under-funded security forces (the Indonesian Navy and Marine Police) might also at times have been complicit in maritime crime." That's carefully hedged, but it's worth noting that when Indonesia decided to professionalize its navy, the problem declined dramatically—in part because naval personnel no longer needed to depend on piracy to earn a living.
More here in a first-person account by Indonesian journalist Andreas Harsono.
The Russian state dramatically escalated its campaign against oil tycoon Mikhail Gutseriyev on Tuesday when a Moscow court issued a warrant for his arrest. The embattled businessman has gone missing and is believed to have fled the country. As Passport noted last month, Gutseriyev had stepped down as head of Russneft, Russia's seventh largest oil company after being charged with tax evasion and "illegal entrepreneurship." At the time, he accused authorities of launching a politically motivated campaign against him in order to place Russneft under control of a massive state-owned holding company. Russia's Kommersant newspaper is reporting that Gutseriyev has fled to London, according to "unofficial information," but he has also been sighted recently in Azerbaijan. Sources close to the businessman say they have no idea where he is.
In another strange twist, Gutseriyev's 22-year old son Chingiskhan (yup, that's his real name) was killed last week in a car crash under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Kommersant has reported that police have no record of a crash involving him. No ambulances were called and no hospitals treated him. Gutseriyev has not been seen since Chingiskhan's funeral in North Ossetia on Aug. 22.
Wherever Gutseriyev is, Russia may find it difficult to get foreign governments to cooperate with extradition. A Swiss Court ruled last week that the prosecution of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkosky was politically motivated and ordered Swiss authorities not to participate in further investigations against him. Khodorkovsky is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence on similar charges. If indeed Gutseriyev has made it to London, home of exiled billionaire Boris Berezovsky and a number of other Putin-era dissidents, his presence could further inflame already strained British-Russian relations.
Japan's gangsters, known as the yakuza, have been feeling the financial squeeze of late. During the 1980s, at the height of Japan's publicly-financed construction boom, the yakuza cashed in on public works by demanding kickbacks from building contractors. In return, the gangster promised not to disrupt construction projects. For a while, business was good, and the yakuza were rolling high. But in 2003, the government had to cut back on public works spending—thereby reducing one of the yakuza's most profitable sources of income.
Now, the Guardian reports, the yakuza are desperately trying to diversify their sources of funding by turning to legitimate private businesses to raise money. While still trying to earn kickbacks from the construction industry and getting a cut from illegal businesses including prostitution, drugs and gambling, the yukuza are now targeting the stock market. But that doesn't mean they're "going legit." Police investigators say yakuza gangs are using the threat of violence to gather inside information before making investments.
Embattled police are appealing to businesses to help them in their fight against organized crime. A senior Osaka detective said, "We can't deal with them alone—we need businesses to be on the lookout and help us expose firms that are nothing more than fronts for the yakuza."
But this may not be so easy. According to Robert Whiting, a long-time Japan commentator, the yakuza is pervasive; few businesses in Japan don't have connections to members. Plus, it's not exactly clear that police and politicians are completely committed to destroying the networks. And considering the yakuza's adeptness at adapting to new economic realities, it's unlikely these gangsters will be giving up crime any time soon.
One of the more counterintuitive conclusions of Ethan Nadelmann's FP cover story on drugs is that "maybe the world is better off, all things considered, with 90 percent of [the world's supply of opium] coming from just one country."
So, perhaps this news should reassure us: The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its annual report today and—you guessed it—Afghanistan is set to break new records for opium-poppy production in 2007. By the end of this year, Helmand province alone will "single-handedly become the world's largest source of illicit drugs," according to the UNODC.
But what happens in Helmand, unfortunately, doesn't stay in Helmand. Perversely, the ongoing development of the region's backwards transportation infrastructure will ensure that Afghanistan's opium spreads far and wide. Consider the new bridge between Afghanistan and Tajikistan:
The Tajik head of state, Emomali Rahmon [...] expressed concern that Tajik and Afghan authorities need to prevent the bridge from facilitating "all kinds of inadmissible activities, such as human, drug, and weapons trafficking."
Good luck with that.
Good luck with that.
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