The recently detained migration official, left, and two Chinese nationals

A high-level migration official and two Chinese nationals were arrested in Argentina as part of an ongoing investigation into the country's largest Chinese mafia, revealing the scope of the group's criminal activity and its penetration of state institutions. 

Federal police officers arrested Leonardo Javier Rende, head of Argentina's national migration commission, and two Chinese citizens on November 30 during five raids conducted in and around the capital city of Buenos Aires, reported Clarín. Rende is accused of taking bribes in exchange for facilitating a human smuggling ring run by a Chinese mafia called "Pixiu," whose principal leaders were captured in June of this year. 

During the investigation into Pixiu, considered to be Argentina's most powerful Chinese mafia, authorities intercepted nearly 30 phone conversations between Rende and an intermediary for the mafia's top boss, Yong Ye, reported Infobae. Security Ministry officials say Rende planned on freeing eight Chinese women who had been detained in May on suspicion of being victims of human smuggling. Rende reportedly said he would hand the women over to the Pixiu once they had been freed. 

Rende is also accused of aiding a separate human smuggling operation allegedly managed by Xu Kequiang, who was one of the Chinese nationals arrested during the November 30 raids. 

In addition to human smuggling, Pixiu was deeply involved in extortion. Judicial authorities believe the mafia earned up to $1.5 million per month by extorting close to 300 Chinese-owned supermarkets, according to Infobae.

InSight Crime Analysis

In one sense, the Pixiu is emblematic of how Chinese mafias operate throughout Latin America. Human smuggling and extortion of Chinese-run supermarkets are the principal revenue streams for many of the groups. And while there have been reports of Chinese mafias operating in several parts of the region and as far north as the US-Mexico border, they appear to be most active in Argentina.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Argentina

At the same time, the Pixiu is anomalous because of its sheer size and its apparent ability to co-opt high-level officials. Given its multi-million dollar earnings from human smuggling and extortion, Pixiu may not just be the largest Chinese-run criminal organization in the country, but one of the biggest in Latin America. This case is also the first in recent memory in which a government official has been found to be colluding with a Chinese mafia, according to Infobae. 

The Pixiu may represent a natural evolution of Chinese organized crime in Latin America. As China's commerical ties to the region have grown since the turn of the century, so too have the criminal opportunities for Chinese mafias based in the region, portending the rise of larger and more sophisticated groups like the Pixiu.

Investigations

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