Chinese Mafia Moving Beyond Extorting Argentina’s Supermarkets

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A series of attacks and threats against Argentine merchants by Chinese criminal organizations in Buenos Aires reveal a possible expansion of the mafia’s criminal tactics and the difficulties authorities are facing in stopping them. 

According to an investigation recently made public, three armed men fired shots against a mini-market employee in the town of Quilmes, to the south of Buenos Aires province, at the beginning of the year, Clarín reported

*This article was written in collaboration with the Center for Transnational Organized Crime (Centro de Estudios sobre Crimen Organizado Transnacional — CeCOT) at the University of La Plata, Argentina.

One of the attackers was identified as Jorge Alberto Karmazin, alias “El Karma,” the leader of the “barra brava,” or soccer fan gang, of the Tristán Suárez sports club from Gran Buenos Aires.

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A few days beforehand, the owner of the store, who is of Argentine origin, had received an extortive message written in Mandarin. The note demanded $50,000 in exchange for “protection” and threatened the victims with armed violence. 

Two other Argentine shopkeepers in the area received similar extortion demands of between $30,000 and $50,000 in exchange for “protection,” according to a report by La Nación.

InSight Crime Analysis

The impunity with which Chinese criminal groups have handled extortions and violent attacks of late show that they are expanding their modus operandi. They have been operating in Argentina for years focusing on the Chinese community, who run small supermarket chains throughout the country. 

But the repeated failure of authorities to end these groups, despite some successful operations, is taking its toll. 

In 2016, for example, Argentine authorities, working in collaboration with their Chinese counterparts, dismantled a powerful criminal organization known as “Pixiu.”

Members of the group are accused of crimes ranging from extortion, threats against small business owners and money laundering.

But a number of factors have made it difficult for authorities to crack down on these Chinese mafia operations. The language barrier remains a severe obstacle. In the operation which ended the Pixiu criminal gang, Argentina’s police had to count on the help of an agent from the Chinese embassy to listen in on the group.

Argentina’s Attorney General’s Office also reported that, given a lack of Chinese-speaking police in the country, authorities have to turn to interpreters drawn from the Chinese community. However, these have reportedly been pressured to not collaborate by the gangs, whose members live in the same communities as the interpreters, according to an Infobae report. Despite this, there is no indication that Argentine police have invested in recruiting Chinese speaking officers into their ranks.

What’s more, a US Defense Department report identified a certain “reticence” from Argentine citizens of Chinese origin in collaborating with local police and prosecutors, helping the Chinese mafia remain “almost invisible.”

Official collusion is another problem. A few months after the arrests of Pixiu’s principal leaders under the so-called “Operation Dragon Head,” it was discovered that the group was linked to a government official.

Leonardo Javier Rende, then-head of Argentina’s national migration commission, was accused of accepting bribes in exchange for facilitating a human trafficking network run by Pixiu.

SEE ALSO: Investigation of Argentina’s Largest Chinese Mafia Leads to New Arrests

Despite the success of such operations, authorities continued receiving reports of mafia-style crimes within the Chinese community. 

In July 2019, three Chinese citizens working in a supermarket in the city of Junín, in Buenos Aires province, were shot to death, Crónica reported.

The individuals suspected of being the criminal authors, two Chinese citizens with international warrants out for their arrest, were arrested in Dubai a few days later while traveling to China.

A report by Perfil reported that the victims had been threatened a few days before the murder.

*This article was written in collaboration with the Center for Transnational Organized Crime (Centro de Estudios sobre Crimen Organizado Transnacional — CeCOT) at the University of La Plata, Argentina.

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