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Eastern Europe: Canada Becomes Base For Foreign Organized Crime

Ottawa, 2 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - Police forces across Canada are working together to fight against increased activity by organized crime syndicates, especially those with connections to East Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union.

More than 300 Canadian senior police officials from throughout the country are in Ottawa for their annual conference. The group released a report on criminal activity prepared by the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, an agency set up to help collect and share information about organized crime with police forces in Canada.

The report warns that organized criminals are turning, increasingly, to Canada as a base for their illegal activities because of large ethnic populations and a relatively lax banking system that allows them to launder money more easily than in many other countries.

Police estimate that organized crime is a big -- and rapidly-growing -- enterprise that is generating thousands of millions of dollars each year from drug smuggling, extortion, counterfeiting, credit card fraud and other illegal activities.

A similar warning was sounded last May when criminal intelligence officials from Canada and five other countries met in London for the third session of what they call the International Working Group on International Crime. At that time, Chief Superintendent Wayne Wawryk of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said criminal emigres from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are the number one target of Canadian law enforcement agencies.

The report, made public last week, identifies six major organized crime groups operating in Canada: East European, Asian, Italian, aboriginal, Colombian and motorcycle gangs. And while each has a traditional kind of criminal activity, the report notes that some of the groups are working together to maximize profits and frustrate law enforcement officials.

It says Toronto is the center of East European criminal activities, with many of the key figures having entered Canada as businessmen. The RCMP has a special unit to investigate East European organized criminal activities and is opening an office in Moscow.

Inspector John Nelly, head of the unit, described the activities as a department store of crime, ranging from high-end fashion shoplifting to murder. He says Canada's relaxed immigration policy for people coming from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union makes the country attractive. Another factor in the growth in the criminal element is that Canada's deportation process can take a long time.

Canadian police forces, according to Wawryk, are investigating criminal activities linked to East European groups in every major city across the country.

Another development also causes concern: the criminals are going high-tech, using computers to illegally access telecommunications systems, data banks, credit profiles and other confidential information.

Evidence of the use of computers to commit or facilitate criminal activity continues to mount, says the report, and criminals are accessing systems used to support financial networks, communications and government agencies.

"We're expecting to see more and more of this kind of activity, and it's going to be difficult for law enforcement to keep up," says Susan Clarke, an intelligence analyst with the RCMP.

Almost every crime conceivable is committed by computer, including murder, robbery, theft, embezzlement and fraud and, as usual, the police are one step behind the criminals, said John Evans, a police officer in western Canada.

Evans is the creator of CopNet, a page on the World Wide Web that is used by police officers around the world. Evans says police have to move soon or the information super-highway will become a "no-go" zone that is wide open for criminal exploitation.

Police have to tear themselves away from geographic boundaries to cope with cyber-crime because an accomplished criminal can commit crimes in 10 or 20 countries in one evening, all from his home computer, he said.

The report says that much of the illegal profits generated by criminal groups is routed into mainstream Canadian business and society because this provides criminals opportunities to launder their illicit profits and a basis to expand their infiltration of the economy.

East European organized crime groups in Canada engage in a wide range of criminal activity, from extortion, murder and large-scale theft to money laundering, international frauds and the smuggling of drugs, cigarettes, weapons and automobiles, says the report.

Asian groups are more involved in white-collar crimes and account for most of the credit card fraud in Canada. They are also involved in counterfeiting of currency and documents.

Italian groups, according to the report, continue to be heavily involved in drug trafficking, money laundering and extortion. Aboriginal groups are engaged mainly in cross-border smuggling of liquor, tobacco and firearms, says the report, while Colombian groups are almost exclusively involved with cocaine-trafficking.

The report says that motorcycle gangs are heavily involved at all levels of the illicit drug trade.