Feature Articles

December 4, 2000

Round Up The Usual Suspects 1

By John William Tuohy

John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washingon, D.C.

compiled by John William Tuohy

Paris: One of the last survivors of the "French Connection" gang of drug-trafficking, Francis "the Belgian" Vanverberghe, was shot dead in a Paris betting palor this week.

     Vanverberghe, 54, was hit several times at close range by a sole gunman, who escaped on the back of an accomplice's motorbike. A bystander in the shop was injured in the attack.

     Vanverberghe has been jailed for 12 years in 1977 for belonging to the French Connection drugs gang based in the southern port of Marseille. He was considered one of the Mediterranean city's last underworld godfathers. The gang inspired the 1971 Oscar-winning film The French Connection starring Gene Hackman.

     Vanverberghe was arrested earlier this year for suspected pimping and released on bail after two months in custody ahead of a possible trial.

     In 1996, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that France had infringed his rights by holding him for four-and-a-half years without trial on drug charges relating to the early 1980s and ordered the country to pay Vanverberghe $11,470.

     Publicity smart, Vanverberghe proposed handing the money over to an organization for drug addicts run by France's most popular champion of the destitute and homeless, Father Abbe Pierre who called Vanverberghe "a gangster with a big heart...who shows signs of repenting" but turned down the offer.

Montreal: A courthouse summit between rival biker gangs might bring an end to their bloody turf war but could also lead to more street-level crime, experts warned.

     Hells Angels and Rock Machine leaders surprised and angered Quebecers when they met, of all places, at the Quebec City courthouse. Among those upset by the meeting's location was Premier Lucien Bouchard, who called it `totally unacceptable.''

     Police and biker experts agreed the gangs were probably trying to reach a truce and agree on a division of territories for their crime rings.

     The gangs were likely responding to increased public pressure for tougher anti-gang laws that followed the shooting this month of a reporter who covered the biker war.

Saratoga Springs: New York State police and crime investigators made surprise visits to three New York thoroughbred racetracks and, at least one, took boxes of cashed betting tickets.

     The raids at Belmont Park and Aqueduct in New York City, and Saratoga in upstate New York were conducted Tuesday by the state Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force, state police and the state Inspector General's Office.

     Suspected criminal activity may link the three tracks and NYRA officials are cooperating.

Canada: The Bank of Canada said on Tuesday it would issue a new series of banknotes beginning in January 2001 to fight counterfeiting of the Canadian dollar.

     The new series will include a C$10 bill to be issued next January, and a C$5 note that will be issued later in 2001. The rest of the new notes (C$20, C$50 and C$100) should be introduced over the next two to three years.

     The Bank of Canada said low-cost, high-resolution color copiers, inkjet printers, and computer scanners have increased the potential for counterfeiting.

     Last May, the Bank of Canada began the withdrawal of the C$1,000 note as part of the federal government's fight against money laundering and organized crime.

Panama City: Panamanian marines seized about 840 pounds of cocaine on from an open boat moored in a Pacific Island archipelago, drug prosecutors said. No arrests were made.

     A Maritime Service spokesman, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters the boat was equipped with two 200-horsepower outboard motors to allow it ``to reach its destination rapidly while avoiding security forces.''

     Sources estimate that between 50 and 60 percent of Andean cocaine passes through Central America on its way to North American and European markets.

Copenhagen: A car bomb exploded in a parking area under a hotel in the city of Aarhus in western Denmark on Saturday, severely injuring one person.

     The injured man, a 38-year-old Dane, was taken to hospital and the hotel evacuated.

     The bomb exploded as the man turned the ignition key to start the engine.

     The victim, who was in a critical condition, had been sentenced for unspecified crimes earlier, police said, adding the bomb that blew his car to pieces could be connected with narcotics.

Islamabad: Pakistan and Russia agreed on Tuesday to cooperate on antiterrorism, narcotics control and illegal immigration, the Pakistani Interior Ministry said.

India: India and the United States have agreed to step up joint efforts on combating international terrorism, including militancy funded by narcotics from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

     The first meeting of the working group was held in Washington in February, and the mandate of the group was widened to include discussions on narco-terrorism and Afghanistan ahead of its second meeting this week.

     Washington has expressed concern in recent years that the source of anti-U.S. terrorism is shifting from the Middle East to Afghanistan, which is accused of harboring Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden.

Bangkok: At least five people were killed and four wounded in a clash over the weekend between ethnic Shan rebels and government soldiers and their ethnic Wa allies.

     The clash lasted more than four hours before the Shan fighters retreated to positions closer to the Thai border.

     The Shan rebels said the clash was over narcotics. It said the government-UWSA launched the attack to take revenge for the SSA's seizure last week of amphetamines bound for Thailand.

The UWSA is labeled by the Thai military as a major producer of amphetamines for the Thai market. Formerly a rebel group, it signed a cease-fire with the government in 1989, but continues to hold arms.

     The SSA, formerly led by drug lord Khun Sa, who defected to the junta several years ago, has been fighting for an independent Shan state since 1964.

     In related news, the commander-in-chief of U.S. Pacific forces will pay a four-day visit to Thailand to assess what the two countries' military forces can do jointly to counter illegal drug trafficking, U.S. Embassy officials said Monday.

     US Defense Secretary William Cohen told reporters in Bangkok last Tuesday that Blair would, in particular, explore the scope for increased US military cooperation to control the flow into Thailand of methamphetamines from Myanmar.

     Methamphetamines ''have the real potential to degrade life in Thailand, corrupt individuals and cause the addictions of many people, young and old. This can pose a devastating threat to Thailand and we are prepared to work with them in a positive way,'' Cohen said.

     Methamphetamine abuse in Thailand has rapidly accelerated, especially among the young.

     According to the US State Department's latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released in March, many traditional traffickers of opium and heroin in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar are now either producing or moving opiates and methamphetamines.

     It said methamphetamines flowing into Thailand are also being shipped onward to world markets, making Thailand both a consuming and a transit country.

Washington: According to the US Customs Serice, Mexican drug lords are paying the homeless in California between $800 and $1,200 to smuggle drugs across the US boarder.

     Last year, agents made 4,300 seizures of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and Methamphetamine at the five crossing points along the state's 140-mile border with Mexico. The marijuana alone totaled 385,000 pounds; the cocaine nearly 10,000 pounds.

La Plaz: Bolivia said it was determined to continue its program of eradicating coca plants -- the raw material of cocaine -- despite nine days of roadblocks by growers restricting freight access to cities.

     Five people have been killed and 35 wounded in clashes between protesters and security forces, who began trying to clear roadblocks.

     The United States has put pressure on impoverished Bolivia to stamp out excess production of coca. The bitter leaf is a traditional product of the South American Andes but has been increasingly diverted to make narcotics.

     The government of President Hugo Banzer wants to eliminate all illegal coca cultivation by 2002.

     Nestled in the heart of South America, Bolivia is the poorest country in the region, so American threats to cut off financial aid send shivers through the government.

Japan: Police have arrested an Israeli man on suspicion of attempting to smuggle 25,400 tablets of the drug methylene dioxy-methyl amphetamine (MDMA), commonly known as ecstasy, into Japan.

     David Bitton, 32, was arrested on suspicion of attempting to smuggle the drugs in a double-bottomed suitcase after arriving at Narita airport on a flight from Brussels on Sept. 9, in violation of the Narcotics Control Law, they said.

     The pills, with an estimated street value of 120 million yen, represent the largest amount of MDMA ever seized at the airport, customs officers said.

     Bitton told investigators that he was asked by a female American acquaintance in India to smuggle the drugs for $5,000, and that he accepted the job because he had trouble making a living, the police said.

China: China executed seven people on Tuesday for crimes including murder, kidnapping and running gambling and prostitution rings.

     Gang leader Lai Xundong and three of his cohorts were put to death shortly after their appeals were turned down by the Jilin province high court at a public rally in the northeastern city of Changchun, Xinhua News Agency reported.

     Three associates of Lai and his gang were also executed after the court confirmed their death sentences, Xinhua said. The seven were put to death by firing squad, it said.

     Another 30 people associated with Lai's gang had their appeals turned down and were sentenced to up to life in prison, the report said. Hundreds of people attended the rally, it said.

     In related news, police have captured a gang leader wanted in a daytime robbery attempt on an armored car that left seven dead in a hail of bullets.

     Zhang Jun - dubbed public enemy No. 1 by China's press -- was seized Tuesday night following a tip he was meeting a mistress in the central city of Chongqing, police said.

     Zhang surrendered without much of a struggle, state-run media said, but police found he was carrying a pistol, 180 bullets and an antitank grenade.

     In the bloodiest robbery, an armored car was pulling into a local bank on Sept. 1 in downtown Changde in Hunan province when three men wearing ski masks opened fire, according to news reports.

     The attackers - one of them alleged to be Zhang - shot and killed the driver, three guards and a bank employee, only to discover the vehicle had no cash.

     The three escaped by commandeering a taxi, killing the driver. As they pulled away, a final volley of bullets killed one bystander and wounded four others, including a 3-year-old girl, the Beijing Evening News said.

New York: According to US court papers, Russian bank Sobinbank was at the heart of a massive money laundering scheme in which Russian businessmen and criminals illegally funneled about $7 billion through accounts at the Bank of New York Co...

     The documents allege that suspected Russian mobsters and businessmen used Bank of New York accounts held by Sobinbank and a related Russian bank as the main pipeline to wire ill-gotten funds -- including money from tax fraud and kidnappings -- out of Russia.

     Investigators from around the world are tracing the flow of funds from Russia to the United States that passed through accounts at the Bank of New York, in an effort to crack a tangled money laundering scheme. The vast bulk of the $7 billion went through the two Russian banks' New York accounts the papers allege.

     The US government has frozen about $15.3 million held in Sobinbank's Bank of New York account last autumn. It also seized an account held by Russia's Depozitarno-Kliringovy Bank (DKB), in which Sobinbank has a 20 percent interest.

     Prosecutors allege that from 1996 to 1999, billions of dollars passed through the two Russian banks' accounts into Bank of New York accounts used by two companies - Becs International and Benex - to launder money.

     The money in the Sobinbank account often was used to pay criminals for crimes including kidnapping, the court papers said. The transfers also defrauded the Russian government of taxes and broke the country's currency controls, they said.

     Becs and Benex were both controlled by Russian emigre Peter Berlin, the husband of Russian-born former Bank of New York executive Lucy Edwards. The couple pleaded guilty earlier this year to their role in the conspiracy and have been cooperating with the authorities as part of their plea agreement.

     The Bank of New York, one of the oldest commercial banks in the country, was not charged with any crime and has reportedly been cooperating with authorities.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

Past Issues
div. of PLR International
P.O. Box 19146
Cleveland, OH 44119-0146
216 374-0000

Copyright © 2000 PLR International