Saturday, August 15, 2009
South China Morning Post Aug 15, 2009 Saturday He Huifeng p.5
Organised crime calls the shots when it comes to doing business in Chongqing
Organised crime has terrorised the commercial world in Chongqing for so long that it has become part of everyday business. Gangsters have gradually infiltrated many sectors and made their presence felt through blackmail, extortion and loan sharking, local businessmen said. "For most businessmen in Chongqing, you can't survive if you don't submit to the gangsters," said Hu Shuang , whose father runs a lumber company. "Surrender is the only way to protect ourselves. The gangs and officials are together, so revenge would come if you called the police."
Huang Wei , head of Chongqing's Private Economic Promotion Association, said usury was the most common tactic gangs employed to acquire assets from legal businesses. Mr Huang said gangsters would lure businesses with seemingly reasonable rates of interest, and then fail to provide the agreed amount of cash while still demanding full repayment. The deadline for repaying money was also very tough, sometimes only a matter of days, he said. "If you pay it late, they will smash your office with knives and clubs," he said.
Ordinary people and even soldiers have suffered from the gang violence. In March, a soldier standing guard outside a garrison in Chongqing was killed and his machine gun was stolen. The authorities treated it as a terrorist attack at first but later discovered it was the work of organised crime. In November, five amusement arcade workers were killed in a fight at the establishment. Local reports said more than 20 gangsters armed with knives and batons had clashed with the employees.
"Chongqing has a deeply rooted tradition of armed gangs," said Yao Shibo, who runs a trading company. He said many munitions factories had been built in the area when it was the wartime capital of the Kuomintang and "homemade" knives and firearms were readily available in rural areas. He said gangs were widely active, especially in taxi companies, farm produce markets and commercial property construction sites. "The gangs have thousands of youngsters and unemployed men as reserves," Mr Yao said. "They would fight for anyone. You just need to pay them 100 yuan [$113HK] each per attack. Being a hoodlum is a way to make a living."
In Beijing's development blueprint for western regions, Chongqing was pitched as an export and trade base and the major city in the west. But the revelations of gang activity are putting a stain on the municipality's image as a place gearing up for international business. An intercontinental rail line linking Chongqing to Rotterdam is scheduled to be completed by 2012. The rail link has been touted as a way to gradually resolve the economic imbalance between the mainland's prosperous coastal areas and the poorer interior regions.
Dramatic tale of triad fighter's fall from grace
Ng Tze-wei Ibid., p. 5
From triad-buster to police chief, from police chief to target of triad-buster - the story of Wen Qiang is no movie plot, but no less dramatic. Mr Wen, director of the Chongqing Justice Bureau and formerly deputy police chief for 16 years, was placed under internal party investigation last Saturday for allegedly shielding the rampant and growing triad forces in the sprawling municipality of 30 million. The 54-year-old Chongqing native started working right after high school, and slowly climbed up the ladder with the police force in Sichuan , the province Chongqing belonged to before becoming an independent municipality in 1997. Mr Wen became vice-chief of the Chongqing police in 1992, and deputy party secretary in 2003. Mr Wen shot to fame by solving several high-profile robberies in the early 1990s, and became a household name when he caught the infamous crime boss Zhang Jun after a six-year pursuit. Zhang was caught by Mr Wen in 2000, faced charges ranging from armed robbery to murder, and was executed the year after.
During his tenure as police chief, Mr Wen slowly gained a reputation for his close involvement with the rich and powerful, and the darker side of the city's business deals.
In the few months before his fall from grace, three billionaires close to Mr Wen - two were also local legislators - were arrested. Property developer Chen Mingliang , motorbike businessman Gong Gangmo and Li Qiang , the second-richest man in the municipality's Banan region - with interests from property to transport - were among more than 100 people taken away during a 50-day assault on organised crime in Chongqing.
When former Liaoning party chief Bo Xilai was transferred to Chongqing in 2007, he swore to fight crime gangs that were growing out of control in the booming industrial municipality. In July last year, he parachuted Wang Lijun , a well-known triad-buster from Liaoning province, in to take Mr Wen's position. Mr Wen was transferred to head the Justice Bureau, an apparent promotion.
Mr Wang, 40, in his 20 years as a policeman has reportedly sent 800 criminals to their execution. His long-term battle with the triads also gave him at least 20 scars from knife and bullet wounds, and a 10-day coma. He is now rumoured to have a seven-figure price on his head.
Last month Mr Wang said the triads in Chongqing were known for "having a long history, wide coverage, deep connections, huge membership, high quality, and vicious influence".
Above all, "some of the organised crime gangs already have a 'legal' coat, and are using business to support triad activities, and using triad activities to enrich their business".
Many legitimate businesses have fallen victim to organised crime, and have complained about the high extortion fees they pay to survive.
Mr Wen was the most senior official brought down since Mr Wang's drive to crack down on this mingling of power, money and crime.
Public administration professor Mao Shoulong of Renmin University said collusion between police and organised crime was not uncommon around the world, but in China the situation was somewhat different. "The collusion is not so much between police and organised crime gangs. The Chinese police are still quite effective in combating crime," Professor Mao said. "The collusion is more between police and a growing number of businesses using triad-like methods to conduct their affairs."