Officials from the U.S., Europe, and the countries of the former Soviet Union begin a three-day conference today in Germany on organized crime. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports the conference's sponsors hope the gathering will spur international cooperation.
Munich, 31 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Senior police and security officials from more than 20 former communist countries are meeting in Germany this week to discuss the growing threat to international security posed by a new breed of criminals.
The 86 experts are meeting behind closed doors in the Bavarian town of Grainau to discuss a new criminal interest in stealing weapons technology to sell to the highest bidder. They will also consider how to cooperate better in combating money laundering, drug smuggling, kidnapping, and other cross-border crimes.
The extent of international crime is illustrated by the topics to be discussed at the three-day conference. They include: the black market in conventional weapons, smuggling nuclear materials, the penetration of intelligence services by international criminals, criminal links to terrorist groups, criminal involvement in business activities, the drug trade, banking and money laundering, and the profitable markets in illegal emigration.
Most of the 86 experts are from the interior or defense ministries. In some of them crime has already become a major threat to internal security. Albanian deputy prime minister Ilir Meta told an informal meeting last night that the level of crime in his country was damaging its efforts to become a respected member of the international community. Representatives of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan discussed the dangers posed to their countries by international drug smugglers and other cross-border criminals. Others talked about problems in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Romania and the Baltic states.
The Grainau conference was convened by America's Federal Bureau of Investigation -- the FBI -- and the Marshall Center. The Marshall Center is an offshoot of the U.S. military which holds special courses and seminars on security and military issues for Russian and East European experts at its headquarters in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Germany.
The assistant director of the FBI, Thomas Pickard, told the delegates that international criminals could pose a real threat to security and cooperation was the only way to stop them.
He says "organized crime will move into anything where there is a profit to be made. If there is money to be made by stealing and selling conventional weapons such as anti-tank rockets, new weapons or ammunition, then organized crime will move in."
Pickard says that taking this a step further, it is also possible to envisage international criminals trying to get hold of weapons of mass destruction and sell them to the highest bidder. He called this the "ultimate danger" posed by organized crime.
The FBI's assistant director said that apart from fighting crime itself, countries had to cooperate more in combating the methods used by criminals to make their operations possible. He emphasized particularly the problem of money laundering in which criminals shift money through legitimate businesses -- such as banks -- to hide the money's origin.
He says money laundering is the "lifeblood of ... criminal organizations."
Pickard painted a picture of how modern international criminals work. "There are illegal activities in country 'one'," he says. "There is money laundering and bank accounts in country 'two.' In country 'three', the criminals own property bought from their illegal profits but they reside in country 'four'." Pickard says this shows the necessity of international cooperation.
The FBI assistant director said the United States was developing useful cooperation with Russia and China and other countries. As an illustration, he told a story of how a young Chinese had been kidnapped in Los Angeles in December last year and his father told to go back to China and hand over $1.5 million ransom to Chinese criminals.
Working together, U.S. and Chinese officials were able to find and seize the criminals holding the son in Los Angeles and capture those waiting for the ransom in China. Pickard said the United States had similar experiences with Russia.
Others at the crime conference said they expected an extensive debate behind closed doors on the activities of Russian criminals across both western and eastern Europe. West Europeans expected to give detailed reports on Russian operations include senior officials of the German federal police and Italian experts. There may also be a report by Aleksandr Kostin, the head of the international cooperation department at the Russian interior ministry.
Conference officials said experts are expected to discuss recent reports that as much as $10 billion in Russian money may have been transferred through the Bank of New York over the last 18 months. U.S. reports say some of the money -- not all of it -- may have come from organized crime.
The FBI assistant director declined to discuss the case when asked about it, saying it was still being investigated. He said it would come up in the discussions at the Grainau conference, but only behind closed doors.