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Although the whole of Pakistan currently stands haunted by organized crime syndicates and loosely structured street gangs, the port city of Karachi particularly finds itself caught up in a vortex of crimes such as extortion, corruption, kidnap for ransom, drug trafficking and land-grabbing and real estate frauds etc.
While law enforcement agencies claim they are putting their best foot forward to stem the ever-surging graph of crime in Karachi, where turf wars, sectarian violence, linguistic hostility, political upheavals and fierce land disputes are almost a routine, it is certainly becoming very difficult for these state-run departments to garner the trust and support they need from the affected local population-especially when it comes to fighting the mushrooming extortionists.
And this is primarily because of the poor image of the police, in particular, as most residents of Karachi are not afraid saying that a good number of elements within this law enforcement agency are seemingly connected to criminals.
Resultantly, many businessmen and traders quietly oblige the extortion rackets instead of suffering the "dire consequences."
Research conducted by the Jang Group and Geo Television Network reveals that while dozens of the poor and lesser developed countries like India, South Africa, Hong Kong, Greece, Portugal, Turkey, Mexico, Colombia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary Latvia, Lithuania, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Ethiopia and the sub-Saharan nation of Equatorial Guinea etc are plagued by extortion, even the much more developed nations like the United States, Japan, France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Denmark, Finland, Sweden Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Holland, Ireland and the United Kingdom are also infested with gangs of extortionists.
(Reference: Mangai Natarajan's 2011 book "International Crime and Justice." She is an associate professor and the coordinator for the International Criminal Justice at John Jay
College of Criminal Justice, the City University of New York)
But as the investigation into the September 11, 2012 fire incident at the Baldia Town Karachi garments factory (Messrs Ali Enterprises) unfolds, one can say that the extortion rings in Pakistan are perhaps the most inhuman and brutal among all their fellow criminals operating across the globe.
Not fewer than 289 people were killed by smoke, burns and stampede in the Baldia Town Karachi factory inferno, as the industrial unit's owners had failed to pay Rs200 million extortion money to a local mafia.
Let us first see how extortion rackets function in the United States and how prompt and efficient the local law enforcement authorities are in apprehending the culprits involved.
In March 2013, the Los Angeles police in the United States had arrested more than 25 people for extortion, possession and theft; reveal numerous American newspapers and reports aired by country's leading news channels.
According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, while a few suspects were released on smaller bail bonds, some are being held on bails ranging from $1 million up to $3 million. The higher bail amounts for some were set because of street gang enhancements and multiple serious counts. All suspects named in the indictment are facing life sentences.
Based on the indictment, the alleged gang members would demand weekly "rent" from street vendors selling food, fruit and flowers in the southeast area of Hollywood.
Some payments were as low as $10 a week; others were as high as $100, depending on how good the business was.
The American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in one of its August 6, 2014 press releases, had warned the public regarding the rise in "virtual kidnapping" extortion schemes and the targeting of physicians in South Texas.
The FBI Press release had stated: "Callers will often make their victims believe they are being watched and were personally targeted. In reality, many of these callers are outside of the United States, simply making hundreds of calls, possibly using phone directories or other phone lists."
By the way, the FBI has also issued another warning that small business owners, primarily of Asian descent, are being targeted by extortionists who threaten them by telephone after gleaning personal information about them from the Internet. There have been reported extortion attempts against business people who received e-mails with their customer information attached.
The extortionists demand money or they will expose the information to competitors and the customers themselves, who would not be happy to discover their business information published on the web.
The threats, which the FBI said appear to be from foreign countries, come in the form of the business owners being lead to believe that the extortionists know personal information about them.
Research shows that many decades ago, the "King of Rick and Roll" Elvis Presley (1935-1977), was the target of extortion attempts, particularly the one in Germany in November 1959.
Elvis Presley had achieved estimated record sales of around 600 million units worldwide and was named by the prestigious "Forbes magazine" as being the second top earning dead celebrity with $55 million as of 2011.
The FBI Files, having nearly 700 pages of information about on Presley, state that on November 27, 1959, the great singer had hired a South African swindler and blackmailer called Griessel-Landau for skin treatments in Germany.
FBI files disclose: "By negotiation, Presley had agreed to pay Griessel-Landau $200 for treatments received and also to furnish him with a $315 plane fare to London, England. Griessel Landau had agreed to depart to England on 25 December 1959 at 19.30 hours from Frankfurt, Germany, but did not leave as agreed and had rather returned and demanded an additional $250, which Presley paid. A day later Griessel-Landau made a telephonic demand for 2,000 £ for the loss of his practice which he closed in Johannesburg, South Africa prior to his departure for Bad Nauheim (Germany) to treat Presley."
Although there is a difference between extortion and blackmail, it might interest many readers that in October 2009, a TV producer had allegedly tried to extort $2 million from the famous American late night television talk show host David Letterman by threatening to reveal Letterman's affair with a female subordinate.
Also in 2009, US actor John Travolta said that a paramedic in the Bahamas had tried to blackmail him and his wife by threatening to imply that the Travoltas were partially responsible for the death of their son.
(Reference: The Wall Street Journal)
Extortionists are on rampage in Japan too, where Sokaiya, a small groups of independent male criminals, extorts money from corporations.
According to Dr. Szymkowiak, an Assistant Professor in Chaminade University's Department of Criminal Justice in Honolulu, Sokaiya gangsters employ various methods, including threatening to reveal corporate secrets and scandals, spreading rumors, publishing bogus "magazines," disrupting shareholder meetings, blasting right-wing rhetoric from sound trucks outside corporate headquarters and resorting to violence against executives and their families that can lead to fatalities.
In his book, Dr. Szymkowiak had noted: "In the first half of the 20th century, there were about 300 to 400 Sokaiya. After World War II, Allied-inspired reforms made corporations more vulnerable to Sokaiya by instituting transparency. Their corporate secrets were now public knowledge--and available to Sokaiya. But Sokaiya haven't restricted their activities to corporate matters. No one likes confrontation, especially not the Japanese who consider it an embarrassment, a failure. Sokaiya were very active in the 1970s protests over the Minamata mercury poisonings and other consumer issues, as well as in support of right-wing political groups' anti-Vietnam War demonstrations."
In spite of recent corporate stands against involvement with Sokaiya, a modicum of corporate transparency and legal roadblocks, the system flourishes in Japan.
Study of extortion in India, where Section 384 of the Indian Penal Code states that whoever commits extortion shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine or with both, shows that Mumbai Police's annual crime records for 2013 had painted a grim picture, showing an increase from the previous year in serious crimes such as rape and extortion.
However, there was a rise in property offences such as robbery, dacoity, theft and house break-ins etc.
Extortion cases, an indicator of underworld activity in the city, also increased by 29 per cent in 2013. While there were 231 cases registered in 2012, the number rose to 338 last year.
(Reference: February 10, 2014 report of the Indian Express)
A December 7, 2014 report appearing in the "Times of India" had read: "A nephew of fugitive gangster Guru Satam who was threatening a city based builder Rahul Shah to pay up extortion sum of Rs5 million was arrested by the city crime branch.
Builder Shah had approached the Anti Extortion cell and had sought police help, after the extortionist had been calling him from international numbers. The May 15, 2013 edition of "The Guardian" had stated that extortion cases were on the rise in the state of Assam, which had registered over 4,500 cases of extortion since 2010, despite having set up anti-extortion cells. In 2010 alone, total 909 cases of extortion were registered across Assam. In 2011, this number was resting at 992, followed by 1,074 in 2012 and 1,214 in 2013.
In Turkey, crime gangs are also involved in extortion racketeering over the years.
Turkish crime groups are not solely gangs composed of ethnic Turks. Individuals of ethnic groups other than Turks but originating in the country are also involved in organized crime. The same groups have wings in Western Europe too.
In United Kingdom, according to the National Crime Agency, the true extent of blackmail and extortion offences (including "protection rackets") by organised criminals is not known.
However, an Anti Kidnap and Extortion Unit provides a 24/7 response to UK, European and worldwide law enforcement officers plus government departments dealing with reported offences of kidnap, blackmail and extortion.
Online extortion is very common here and it discourages many consumers from using the Internet for E-Commerce.
What is more troubling is the fact that organised crime gangs using the Internet are much harder to trace down for the police, even though they increasingly deploy cyber cops.
A BBC report of February 17, 2011 had revealed that extortion was costing £2.2 billion to the British economy annually. The hardest hit sectors were pharmaceuticals, biotech, electronics, IT and chemicals.
Quite recently, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said the country's World Cup captain Eoin Morgan has been victim of an attempted blackmail over a former relationship.
According to the ECB, an Australian man had demanded a five-figure sum (£35,000) to prevent a story about one-day skipper Morgan and a previous girlfriend appearing in national newspapers in Australia and Britain.
International news agency Reuters said Cricketer Mogan was a victim of extortion though.
This is what a top British newspaper "The Guardian" had reported in its October 25, 2009 edition about gang involved in extortion activities in North London's Haringey locality: "Endemic extortion, intimidation and thuggish protection rackets were increasingly administered to Haringey's large Turkish and Kurdish communities as the turf war took hold. Gang members appeared to be acting with impunity, bragging to local Turkish newspapers that they were only dealing a bit of cannabis and harming no one. But underworld sources revealed the gangs had ready access to an arsenal of firearms. And neither side was shy about using them. Intelligence indicated it was only a matter of time before more innocent bystanders were killed."
Coming to Europe, the armed Spanish separatist group "ETA" had been charging the "revolutionary tax" from country's businesses for over 40 years till 2011.
In December 1970, West German consul Eugen Beihl became ETA's first kidnap victim. He was followed by a list of 76 prominent victims who brought the group millions of dollars in ransom. They included businessman Emiliano Revilla, who was held captive for 249 days.
More than 600 of ETA leaders and militants are in prison, its attempts to reorganise in Spain, France and Portugal have been thwarted, many of its safe houses and arms caches have been discovered, and more and more business owners had been refusing to give in to extortion.
(Reference: a 2011 report of the Rome-based news agency "Inter Press Service")
In Italy, as a June 2014 report of Daily Mail suggests, 95 suspected Mafia figures were arrested as part of an alleged extortion racket operation based in the city of Palermo alone.
In France, during January 2010, the co-owner and director of a very famous white and red wine producing firm Messrs Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, had received this note: "Part of your vineyard has been killed, a substantial portion of the rest of the vineyard is about to be decimated unless you pay me a million Euros."
The firm director Aubert de Villaine had reported the matter to the police of Burgundy.
Cops had advised him not to pay the extortion money as directed, so de Villaine had informed the extortionist through a note that he would pay as demanded, but it would take time to muster the Euros; as he would have to call an emergency meeting of the shareholders.
Within a matter of days, de Villaine received another mailing-what would be the third and final piece of correspondence. The tone of this letter was polite, even grateful that payment would be made. It instructed de Villaine to please deliver the money in a valise to the cemetery in the neighboring town of Chambolle-Musigny. The suitcase was to be left inside the cemetery gates at 11 P.M. on February 12, 2010.
Aubert de Villaine's trusted staffer Cuvelier had dropped the suitcase and half an hour later, a man called Jacques Soltys was arrested by the police. The culprit had simultaneously orchestrated a similar plot against another very highly regarded vineyard Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue.
The man had committed a string of armed robberies and even attempted a kidnapping. In all he had been sentenced to at least 20 years, though he had served only a portion of that time.
(Reference: Journalist Maximillian Potter's book "The Assassin in the Vineyard")
The August 28, 2014 edition of the "Daily Mail" had carried a report about a covert camera footage obtained by the Italian police, who had filmed the rendezvous as part of a two-year sting operation.
The footage showed a powerful Mafia boss Antonio Nesci (nicknamed 'Swiss Mountain') secretly talking to fellow mobsters in North Zurich (Switzerland) about extortion, drugs and respect in a scene like something from "The Godfather."
The Italian police had then arrested 16 men from this particular Mafia cell on the basis of this evidence. The arrests were the culmination of an elaborate police investigation called "Operation Helvetia," which was launched in 2012.
In certain criminal dynamics, Karachi is not much different from countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where gangs make a large portion of their income from this crime.
Around 70 per cent of El Salvador's small businesses have been victims of gang extortion, a phenomenon that has caused an average of two businesses a week to close down.
(Reference: El Salvador's National Council for Small Businesses)
In Honduras, where 153 taxi drivers were killed in violent confrontations between 2012 and 2014, criminal groups earn more than $27 million a year from extorting the transport sector.
San Pedro Sula, a city in Honduras, is known as the most violent town in the world.
This city has a murder rate of 173 per 100,000 residents, reportedly the highest in the world outside a war zone.
Authorities in Guatemala estimate that criminals make around $61 million a year from extortion, a figure that illustrates the extent to which this crime impacts businesses and families.
According to figures compiled by Guatemala Interior Ministry, the biggest earners for criminals dedicated to extortion are the public transport sector and small businesses, each of which brings in around $23 million a year. Extorting local families earns criminals an additional $2.6 million. The $61 million figure also includes around $4 million in profits obtained from "express kidnappings" -- in which the victim is held hostage for a short period of time.
While gangs are responsible for an estimated 35 percent of extortion in the country, the other 65 percent is carried out by other criminal actors that the government referred to as "opportunists."
A total of 74 criminal groups engaged in extortion have been dismantled since 2011, and 250 people have been arrested for this crime.
(Reference: a report published by the Colombia-based "InSight Crime Foundation," which has been funded since 2010 by the American University's Centre for Latin American and Latino Studies in Washington DC)
Talking of Africa in this context, a CNN report of January 26, 2015 had reported about the extortion racket operated by the son of Equatorial Guinean President.
The CNN had reported with some pun and satire that the Africa Football Cup of Nations was being hosted by a country (Equatorial Guinea) called land of "extortion."
The premier US television channel had stated: "The son of the Equatorial Guinean president is a man of many investments. There's the $2 million he's splashed out on Michael Jackson memorabilia and then there's the financial dealings he's had with Italian businessman Roberto Berardi."
Berardi was convicted in 2013 for misappropriation, fraud and swindling at the behest of Teodorin, the son of Equatorial Guinean President Obiang, who is one of the world's longest-serving (non-royal) leaders, having been in power since 1979, when he overthrew his uncle in a coup.