Unease over police's cosy ties with triad
A sweeping crackdown on triad operations in Qingdao, Shandong province, which saw the arrests of nearly 200 gangsters and their local police friends, has sparked concerns about the consequences of cops and robbers working in cahoots with each other.
Referring to the largest mafia-style case in the coastal city since before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, a spokesman for Qingdao's Public Security Bureau said on October 21 that 14 police officers had been detained and placed under investigation, Xinhua reported that day.
Yu Guoming and Feng Yuexin, the respective public security bureau chiefs of Shibei and Licang districts, were the top police officers among those detained for allegedly providing protection to a criminal syndicate led by triad boss Nie Lei, the report said.
Xinhua added that hundreds of policemen were involved in the year-long investigation into the gang that resulted in the capture of 209 alleged members and official arrest of 161 of them, effectively crippling the group.
An earlier report, carried by the Beijing-based Caixin.cn on October 17, suggested that nearly 100 Qingdao policemen, including middle- and senior-ranking officers, had been implicated in the bust and were under questioning.
Suspected members of the unnamed triad were charged with crimes including assault, organised prostitution, gambling operations, possession of guns and ammunition, and drug trafficking.
The eradication of Nie's group is the largest of its kind on the mainland, in terms of the numbers of triad members involved and police officers who allegedly protected them, since a massive clampdown on mafia-style organisations in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing that started in 2008.
But police in Qingdao also admitted that the case, involving some of their own, had tarnished the image and credibility of the police force in the city.
Nie and more than 100 of his suspected minions were arrested early last month. Before that, the Qingdao-based Bandao Metropolis News quoted the city's chief prosecutor, Dong Yizhi, in late August as saying that, in an effort to settle Nie's case more efficiently and properly, police officers in charge of it were sent to Chongqing to learn how to deal with so many suspects.
The crackdowns in Qingdao and Chongqing are by no means isolated incidents on the mainland. The Ministry of Public Security announced in the middle of last month that more than 2,000 suspects had been detained in 11 provinces over a two-week period, and 18 mafia-type organisations and 270 so-called vicious forces dismantled.
The rampant collusion between police and criminals uncovered in those busts has raised public concern, particularly when the illicit relationships result in the loss of people's rights and put them in danger.
Some pundits say that without police turning a blind eye to the criminals, or even offering them protection, in exchange for pay-offs, the gangs would not have survived, much less grow as rapidly as they have in recent years.
'The interdependence and side-by-side existence of local police and vicious forces on the mainland is prevalent and has been there for quite some time,' Hong-Kong-based veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu recently told the South China Morning Post. 'Some cops wear police uniforms in broad daylight, but become security guards for vicious forces when darkness falls.'
Lau said a handful of corrupt officers used their power and positions to ensure that prostitution, gambling and drug trafficking continued. And local authorities, he said, sometimes encouraged criminals by calling upon their services.
'Regional officials may make use of the thugs to beat up and threaten civilians who try to petition for their basic rights or hold dissenting views.'
In fact, the criminal syndicate under Nie grew rapidly and was not subject to investigations, although it has been a notorious source of resentment for many residents in Qingdao since its founding in 1998.
According to the Bandao Metropolis News, Nie busied himself setting up contacts, usually by bribing. He allegedly spent a fortune advancing and seeking promotions for his 'troops', including local police officers. He was known for deciding which officers would be promoted within Qingdao's police force.
This helps explain how he was able to become so influential while maintaining a high profile as his illicit operations thrived over the years.
Hangzhou's Qianjiang Evening News reported on October 17 that up to half of nearly 400 guests at the wedding reception of the daughter of Nie's right-hand man in 2005 were police officers, while the rest were members of various local gangs.
Some said the turning point for Nie and the powerful group under his rule came in March last year, when he and scores of his followers allegedly took high-profile revenge on a rival by smashing up a nightclub at a high-end hotel in the heart of Qingdao, Qianjiang reported. Media reports said city and provincial officials who witnessed or heard about the brawl pledged to uproot the triad, and later ordered local police to start investigating.
The number of arrests Chongqing made in a 10-month operation
- 18 judicial officials were sacked or implicated