Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

World View : Crime Without Borders : There is a dark side to globalization, one that has hit nearly every nation. And law enforcement is trying to cope.

April 27, 1993|ROBIN WRIGHT and RONALD J. OSTROW | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

When Grace Gooljary dialed her husband's mobile car phone in Hong Kong, a stranger answered. Taken aback, she demanded to know who was using the beige Mercedes 420 SEL.

The voice coolly informed her that the car had been stolen--a fact the thief felt safe disclosing because both he and the vehicle were already on a high-powered speedboat heading for China.

Gerald Lynch was walking through Moscow's Arbat shopping district when 10 Gypsy women attacked him. One jumped on his back, another searched for his wallet and U.S. passport, a third grabbed a parcel, a fourth hung on his neck--while the rest badgered him.

But what really staggered Lynch, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, was the way Russian police watched the mugging in broad daylight "like spectators."

Throughout the world, what has glibly been dubbed the "new world disorder" has in fact been taking a growing toll on both individuals and societies since the onset of global change in 1989. The tale of two crimes reflects the darkest side of globalization and the way new freedom has also come to mean new license to engage in criminal acts.

"A fundamental change has taken place in the post-Cold War importance of criminal issues," said Ambassador Parker Borg, the State Department's special adviser on crime.

The disorder plays out most visibly in two forms:

* First, criminal activity is increasingly international. The end of barriers between nations, the demise of totalitarian police states and technological wizardry have combined to open up vast new possibilities for both petty and organized crime.

The Gooljarys were victims of global change.

"Economic reforms in China have led to a bigger demand for luxury cars," explained Albert Kwok, police superintendent of Hong Kong's Organized Crime and Triad Bureau. "A lot of rich people in China are now placing orders with smugglers."

Once one of the world's safer cities, Hong Kong averaged six car thefts a day in 1992--a threefold increase over 1991. Most are smuggled from the British colony to China on tai feis , specially designed boats equipped with up to five 300-horsepower engines.

"As countries are opening their borders and movement is much freer, they are opening themselves to cross-pollination of crime," said Floyd I. Clarke, deputy director of the FBI.

* Second, soaring crime rates within countries are increasingly a negative political force, particularly in new democracies in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa.

Lynch was a victim in a new democracy where the number of people below minimum subsistence income more than doubled in 1992. At least 29% of Russia's 150 million live in poverty, according to the U.N. Economic Commission on Europe. And in a country where everyone until recently had a job, hidden unemployment could reach 7 million this year, Russia's Labor Ministry predicted.

"Crime threatens some of the most basic elements of a democratic order," said a new report by the U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Unless the trend is rapidly and effectively brought under control, new democracies may face "growing opposition to the ongoing political and economic reforms."

The biggest problem is internationalized crime, from which no country is now untainted, according to American, U.N. and European Community experts. Illegal transnational--even transcontinental--transfers of everything from stolen cars and historic artifacts to drugs and endangered species is mushrooming.

Criminal networks in Western Europe have recently established "vast and highly effective" operations, for example, to meet the growing demand for stolen automobiles in Eastern Europe, Western Asia, Africa and Latin America, according to the U.N. Crime Commission, headquartered in Vienna.

But various organized rings are not the only sources of internationalized crime.

"We believe change is particularly affecting small- and middle-scale crime," said Hans Nilsson, a legal specialist on the 26-nation Council of Europe's division on crime, based in Strasbourg, France.

"Organized crime has always had so much power that they've known how to move quite easily across borders. Only the amount may change. What's new is that the little guys can now engage in the same acts too."

With the new freedoms in Eastern Europe since 1989 and the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, whole new markets for crime have also opened up. And the withdrawal and reduction of the former Red Army has unleashed new arms with which to carry out those crimes.

Latin American drug money, known as narco-dollars, is also now being routed through banks in former Soviet republics. U.S. Customs tracked one transaction as far as Belarus before it disappeared.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|