Ottawa, 17 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Police in Canada's capital, Ottawa, are growing "increasingly disturbed" by a jump in activity by East European and Russian criminal groups.
Sgt. Brian Scharf of the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada says at least three "cells" of East European-based organized crime groups are "firmly entrenched" in the Ottawa area and "ready to expand their multi-million-dollar criminal activities." He told RFE/RL that, "these are some of the most violent criminals in the world and they are looking to increase their revenue-generating activities."
Scharf says the groups are involved in large-scale frauds involving insurance thefts, defrauding social services, tax-evasion schemes, extortion of money from immigrants and theft of targeted luxury items for export. Scharf says the groups operating in the Canadian capital are based in Russia and Poland. After stealing items such as jewelry, electronic goods and expensive cars, he says the cells export them back to their home countries to be sold on the black market.
Scharf -- an Ottawa police officer assigned to the Criminal Intelligence Service's special projects section -- says some of the trouble may result from successful police work.
"Police have shut down many traditional drug and prostitution rings in the Ottawa area in the last few years and the East European groups are getting into those lines," he said.
The officer also says that "these are international criminals with real contacts everywhere. A number of cells will work together for common purposes, then retreat back into their own cells when they are finished."
Scharf says there are thousands of these cells around the world. Usually, they are made up of 12 to 15 people and are governed by a group of what Scharf calls executives who co-ordinate criminal activities and settle disputes.
"They are like the chief executive officers of companies and work together to solve problems. They are negotiators but with a willingness to kill," he said;.
He estimates that there were about 500 assassinations in the East European crime world last year.
Scharf says the spread of East European and Russian crime groups follows immigration patterns. Activity was first uncovered in Toronto in the early 1990's. Many immigrants gravitate to Toronto, Canada's largest city, because of concentrations there of ethnic communities. Groups are now known to be operating in every major Canadian city.
The police officer says fighting such organized criminal activities is extremely hard, "especially since they went global after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989." He says the groups are very hard to penetrate, in part because of language but also because they are very careful. And, he says, "they don't look like criminals at all. They look like your neighbor and are your neighbors."
Unlike many organized crime groups, Scharf says many of the members and almost all of the leaders are well-educated and familiar with international crime-fighting efforts because some of them have intelligence training.
Scharf says that because of their experience in dealing with large bureaucracies in their home countries, the gangs often target bureaucracies in Canada -- everything from insurance companies to welfare agencies. He estimates that such activities are generating "several billion dollars a year." In one operation in Canada which police stopped earlier this year, a Russian gang in Toronto was converting heating oil to gasoline and then selling it to gas stations across the province of Ontario. Scharf says it is estimated that scheme earned the criminals more than $100 million.
In July, Canada deported one Russian whom they say is a key player in Russian organized crime. Vyacheslav Marakulovich Sliva had been in Canada since 1995, living in Toronto on a visitor's visa. He was arrested after investigators from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the immigration department raided his home. Police wire taps revealed he was running operations around the world from his Toronto base. He is the brother-in-law of Vyacheslav Kirillovich Ivankov, reputed to be the top Russian mobster in the Brighton Beach area of New York City.