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Russia: Analysis From Washington -- Three Faces Of International Crime

Washington, 27 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Three reports on 26 March highlight the extent to which criminal activities increasingly are crossing national borders, thereby challenging the ability of governments to enforce their own laws and underscoring the importance of international cooperation in fighting crime.

The three cases include an international child pornography ring, illicit mafia money being invested in a legitimate business in another country, and reports about illegal capital flight from Russia to safe havens in Western countries.

In the first case, the U.S. Customs Service announced that it had worked together with Moscow police to close down a child pornography Internet site based in Russia but which sold much of its product in the United States and other Western countries. The Customs Service noted that Russian police had detained one suspect last year and that the case had involved police in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and several other European countries.

In the second, Israeli officials said that they believed that a local businessman had used profits from organized crime groups in Russia to purchase a 20 percent stake in the Israeli telephone company Bezeq. The officials said they believe the businessman got his money from Mikhail Chernoy, who made a fortune organizing aluminum and other export deals after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

And in the third, Russian officials told a conference in Moscow that illegal and uncontrolled capital flight had involved more than $70 billion, a flow that reflects the lack of confidence some Russian businessmen have in their own economy and that has involved banks in various countries wittingly or otherwise in various forms of illegal money laundering.

All three of these cases involve Russia, and because they are being reported at all, they represent successes rather than failures in combating crime. But on another day, a similar set of cases might involve any of a number of countries where the national authorities lack either the ability or the will to police such actions or where the authorities themselves are involved in criminal activities of one sort or another.

Moreover, cases like these raise some significant questions about how nation states either individually or collectively can in fact enforce their laws in the new global economy. Analysts have focused on the many ways in which the new globalism allows individual corporations to escape the constraints that individual governments seek to impose.

But if legitimate businesses are able to use their international positions to do that, criminal groups are even more inclined and have in many respects even greater opportunities. The Internet shows little respect for borders, and criminals are using that. Banking is now worldwide and electronic, and criminals are taking advantage of that. And money, once it moves through one bank can easily be sent to another -- and criminals are exploiting that as well.

Some have suggested that the creation of an international economy will ultimately lead to the creation of a new supranational state. But efforts to promote such an arrangement have not been successful. Indeed, the response of national governments to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe underscore just how far the governments and the people of the world are from being willing to take that step.

That leaves only expanded intelligence and police cooperation as the best means of fighting international crime in cases where national governments are unable to address it on their own. Over the last decade, an increasing number of countries have sent representatives of their law enforcement agencies to other countries both for visits and on a long-term basis to increase cooperation and the sharing of information.

Moreover, ever more countries are turning to Interpol, the international police organization, to share information and to track down criminals. Both these moves have had some success as Monday's (26 March) three reports make clear.

But as so often happens, even the successes highlight failures of another kind. And recent increases in international crime seem likely to continue unless and until national governments simultaneously are more effective at controlling illegal activities at home and more willing than even now to cooperate with other governments abroad.