Institute for Security Studies (Tshwane/Pretoria)

Africa: Transnational Crime in Our Time - Exposed Areas and Red Flags

analysis

The need for crime management to adapt to the nature of organised crime is as great today as it has ever been. This point is underscored by revelations in a recently concluded trial after a consignment of 1,7 tons of pure cocaine was intercepted on a boat in Knysna, a coastal resort in the Western Cape, South Africa, in December 2010.

Three of the six men accused of drug trafficking were convicted, while the rest were acquitted. It was reported that Chinese nationals Xing Cuo Chen and Yuwei Yau were each sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment and the boat owner, South African national Shaun Packareysammy, to 15 years' imprisonment for drug trafficking. The consignment had an astronomical street value of R2 billion (just over $250 million).

Evidence showed that during the period leading up to the drug bust, quite a number of Chinese criminals had taken up residence in Knysna to co-ordinate the inflow of cocaine into South Africa while probably ensuring that abalone was smuggled out of the country. Three Chinese nationals, one of whom was subsequently acquitted, were arrested. The others fled the country. They were alleged to have worked with three South Africans.

The drugs were offloaded from a cargo ship on the high seas off the coast onto a cruiser, which brought the load to Knysna. The plan was to move the consignment to inland destinations by road. The case points to links of interdependence connecting organised crime, the transportation industry and tourism that cannot be ignored. The Chinese-controlled crime network evidently hired the services of a boat operator to courier the cocaine to shore. While planning the operation and conducting surveillance, accommodation was secured in a rented house in Knysna. In the tourism off-season, Packareysammy must have found the offer to rent out his boat irresistible, just as the owners of the house probably did. The economic downturn may well have lowered the risk for criminals in this instance.

A complicating factor is the fact that residential accommodation in holiday resorts such as Knysna is usually rented out through intermediaries. It is not clear whether they have any obligation to conduct due diligence on prospective tenants - and whether they even need to meet them at all. The cocaine case should spark awareness of the additional occupational risk attached to running a business in the so-called sleepy resorts. Civic authorities and law enforcement institutions in places such as Hermanus, Mossel Bay, Plettenberg Bay, Gordon's Bay, Jeffreys Bay and Port Alfred have a responsibility to alert residents and business operators. The absence of border management structures makes each one of them vulnerable and attractive to smugglers.

Indeed, the detrimental impact that organised crime, particularly its trans-national forms, has on the host environment has been evident for some decades. Even though a universal definition of the concept of organised crime still seems elusive, there is a general appreciation of its constituent elements. We are all agreed about the financial motivation that underlies the various premeditated, planned and carefully concealed activities characterised as organised crime in southern Africa.

Criminal networks invest time and energy in their activities as they find the prospect of the reward, so often disproportionate to the effort employed, irresistible. The structures set up to track and confront crime networks know that, at the very least, measures to combat organised crime should focus on raising the risk involved in embarking on criminal enterprises. Over time, they have increasingly become aware of the flexibility and complexity of organised crime. Much of this is because of the dynamism of the environment on which crime networks feed.

Organised cyber crime also appears to be on the increase. This is often referred to as computer hacking, and is used in support of 419 scams. A common scheme is to access e-mails, including the addresses of contacts, and use these to create correspondence purporting to be a request for financial assistance addressed to a person in a foreign country, for instance the United States. Requests encountered recently have been so well crafted that they have resulted in growing numbers of foreigners being conned into making transfers that they believed would assist stranded acquaintances in Greece or Portugal. These countries are more heavily affected by the financial crisis than most.

Crime networks at the centre of some of the scams have been tracked to Johannesburg and Cape Town, as the funds are withdrawn at centres in the two cities. Cases recorded to date indicate a high mobility among the criminals concerned, which makes timeous reporting of suspected fraud critical. It appears that this does not occur often enough, mainly because the victims live in foreign countries. It takes time for them to realise that they have been defrauded, let alone to consider South Africa as the source of the fraud. More often than not, 419 scams are still associated with Nigeria.

An application for the extradition of several Nigerian nationals from South Africa to the United States will be heard later this week (7 June 2012). At the time that they were arrested, a database on their computer contained the identification particulars and banking details of numerous persons who were not connected to them in any way. Some of these people, from countries around the world, are expected to testify when the case eventually comes to trial. One can imagine the jurisdictional issues and expense that will be incurred by the trial, wherever it is held. Since deceptive 419 viral messages have been around for more than a decade, one would expect a minimal level of cyber-vigilance on the part of computer and mobile phone users. One would also expect an extensive network of reporting centres through which to collect and collate reports in real time. This has unfortunately not happened, making this another low risk sphere for crime networks active in South Africa.

Charles Goredema, Senior Research Fellow, Transnational Threats and International Crime, ISS Cape Town

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