Triad ties with officials ring alarm bells

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 August, 2009, 12:00am

Forget riots, collusion between officials and triads is a bigger danger.' That was the headline on this column in March 2006, which argued that rampant collusion has presented a clear and present danger to the government.

So it is gratifying to see that Chongqing Communist Party boss Bo Xilai has launched a high-profile crackdown on organised crime in the municipality. Since June, more than 1,500 people have been arrested, including 67 gang bosses, three billionaires and 50 government officials and police officers. The biggest catch is Wen Qiang, director of the municipality's justice bureau and deputy chief of police.

The crackdown, known for its intensity and scale, has understandably generated lots of buzz on the national media and internet forums with reporters and netizens heaping praise on Mr Bo for his heroics.

It's unclear exactly what prompted Mr Bo to launch the crackdown, but the results revealed the shocking scale of the tentacles of the crime syndicates and their economic and political influence.

According to the state media reports, the syndicates have grown into multimillion-yuan businesses in Chongqing, involved in public transport, real estate development, loan-sharking and even poultry. One alleged billionaire gang boss controlled more than 100 public bus routes while total loan-sharking business in Chongqing amounted to 30 billion yuan (HK$34.1 billion), accounting for nearly one-third of Chongqing's annual revenue. Several of the alleged gang bosses were deputies to the municipal or district People's Congresses or members of the local branches of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

In fact, the influence of organised crime in Chongqing is the epitome of a national trend. Its rise has been swift since the 1990s as the mainland's breakneck economic growth and corrupt government and law-enforcement regime have presented lucrative economic opportunities for criminals. Over the past decade, the central government launched two major nationwide campaigns targeting organised crime, one in 1999 and 2000, and the other in 2006. But those campaigns mainly focused on triads involved in shakedowns, loan-sharking, gambling and prostitution in the smaller cities and counties.

Only in the past few years did alarmed mainland leaders realise that the triads had made significant strides in infiltrating the Communist Party and government departments, as their bosses paid great sums for political positions and became deputies to legislatures and consultative conferences from city to municipality and national levels.

Many of the syndicates have joined with triads in Hong Kong and overseas to carry out money laundering and other criminal activities. To a certain extent, the organised syndicates are fast becoming a powerful political force with lots of money to throw around.

Bribing and colluding with government officials have become the way of life for triads in many parts of the country. Chen Shaoji, the former chairman of Guangdong's CPPCC, had been recently arrested for bribing and living a decadent life, according to the state media reports. But what really alarmed the top mainland leaders was his alleged involvement in both the domestic crime syndicates and the triads in Hong Kong and Macau.

The mainland police have openly admitted that tackling organised crime is difficult, partly because triads maintain deep roots and connections within the government.

Some mainland analysts have speculated that the crackdown will no doubt help boost Mr Bo's political fortunes as nationwide support for him, as son of the late party elder Bo Yibo, is very likely to strengthen his chances for a more powerful position in the central government three years down the road.

Other implications are also set to rumble on. One of the questions on the minds of tens of millions of mainlanders is whether the central government will order other provinces and municipalities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong, to follow suit, given that political infiltration by organised crime is a rising national trend.