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To lose one Prime Minister may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose a second would be carelessness.
The Asian Crime Century briefing fifteen
The lone young man hurling a smoke bomb at the Japanese Prime Minister during a visit to the small fishing town of Wakayama has raised questions not only about security for political leaders in Japan but also regarding the extent of social change in the country that has led to such incidents.
In July 2022, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot and killed while delivering a speech in Nara City, after which the National Police Agency reviewed its VIP protection measures and changed the system to involve the NPA more proactively, with the agency checking security plans prepared by prefectural police.
The attack on Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida by a 24 year old man who threw what appears to have been a smoke bomb has no apparent motive. Ryuji Kimura was arrested at the scene of the incident on suspicion of forcible obstruction of business.
News media film from the attack on Prime Minister Kishida shows him in close proximity to the crowd during the attack and no apparent measures to separate him from any potential hidden threat. It seems that Japanese society is changing but the authorities and the political establishment may not be able to keep up with or perhaps even comprehend the changes.
The two attacks have raised concerns regarding security in Japan, causing a distraction from the ongoing G7 foreign ministers meeting as well as the G7 leaders summit due to be held in Hiroshima in May. Whilst security for international meetings such as the G7 may be very tight, it is noticeable that security for individual Japanese political leaders is light and they mingle with local crowds.
The attacker was immediately wrestled to the ground by local fishermen, not police or security officers. After being arrested, the attacker was found to be carrying a knife as well as what may be a second explosive device.
The shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led to the resignation of the head of the National Police Agency, who admitted that the organisation needed a fresh start and stated that “In the process of verifying our new security plan, we have come to realise that our security system needs a fresh start … we need a new system to fundamentally re-examine security measures and ensure this never happens again.”
To lose one Prime Minister may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose a second would be carelessness.
Also in Asia recently…
Nineteen Japanese men were extradited from Cambodia on 11 April and are suspected of involvement in fraud as well as links to a yakuza organization. The gang, based in a hotel in Cambodia, is believed to have committed dozens of phone frauds against people in Japan. The fraudsters sent a message to one woman victim pretending to be representatives of mobile phone carrier NTT Docomo claiming that she had charges in arrears for using a paid website. The authorities were alerted in January when a person forced to work for the gang called the Japanese Embassy in Cambodia. The Cambodian authorities detained the 19 Japanese nationals at a hotel in Sihanoukville in late January. Some of the suspects have links to an organized crime group in Japan, and police believe that some of the proceeds from the frauds were sent to the yakuza syndicate.
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) has launched a major campaign against corruption in the finance and banking sector. The action is reportedly intended to defuse risks, including those at ailing small banks which are often associated with corruption, as the authorities seek to prevent financial contagion, rally financing support for economic recovery and tech innovation, and counter the spill-over of international turbulence. Thirty state-owned industrial enterprises, including China Mobile and PetroChina, were also put on the inspection list, as authorities look for areas hindering “high-quality” development. The CCDI action comes after changes to the financial regulatory regime, including the establishment of the Central Finance Commission and the National Financial Regulatory Administration, which have consolidated the party’s control over the financial sector.
Officials from the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection recently called in top executives from at least six large state-owned banks to address the probe of Bank of China Ltd.’s former Chairman Liu Liange. The meeting was taking place just as the CCDI announced the investigation of Liu, saying he is suspected of “serious violations of discipline and law.” The CBIRC and the CCDI said they would deepen the crackdown on corruption in the financial industry, and that bankers should draw lessons from Liu. Earlier in April, the CCDI stated that Huang Xianhui, former general manager and party chief at China Huarong Asset Management’s Beijing branch, is also being probed on suspicion of serious violation of law. Huarong, which was once China’s largest bad-debt manager, has been plagued by scandals and massive losses. Its former chairman, Lai Xiaomin, was executed in 2021 after being convicted of crimes including bribery.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Indonesian Government announced that 30 Indonesians were repatriated from Vietnam on 10 April after being victims of human trafficking. On 12 March, 2023, the 30 Indonesians has gone to their Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City and asked for help after they all fled from where the fraud syndicate detained them. None of the 30 victims had a passport or cell phone, which the fraud perpetrators took upon their arrival in Vietnam. The victims had been lured to Vietnam by the offer of well paid jobs, but they were forced to work in a call centre conducting frauds.
South Koreans are increasingly concerned about the extent of illegal drug use in their country, which is now a significant consumer of marijuana, methamphetamines and MDMA (ecstasy). The growing concerns follow a recent case involving high school students who were tricked into drinking drug-laced beverages on the main streets of southern Seoul, followed by their parents receiving phone calls demanding money with threats to report their children to the police for drug use. The Korean police arrested four drug distributors and are pursuing the mastermind, who is believed to be in China. The Korean Times reported that people can buy philopon (a Japanese trademark for a methamphetamine) or hemp on the Internet for only around 30,000 won ($23), and that the police arrested 18,395 drug offenders last year, up 14 percent from 2021. More than 34 percent were under 30, compared to 16 percent in 2017, with teenage offenders rising to 294 from 104 in 2008. The police estimate the number of chronic drug users at about 550,000, which is over 1 percent of the total population.
The Singapore Police Force Anti-Scam Centre has conducted an interesting operation in collaboration with OCBC Bank, using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology. The police and OCBC staff conducted “live interventions” by analysing the fund flows to more than 500 bank accounts, which were surfaced in scam reports. They worked together to identify fraud victims who had been transferring funds into these bank accounts and more than 1,000 messages were sent to alert victims of the on-going frauds perpetuated against them. Potential losses of more than $12.6 million from more than 700 victims were successfully safeguarded. To increase the speed of intervention, officers from the ASC developed a system using RPA technology to automate the processes of information sharing, information processing and mass sending of messages to the scam victims. RPA technology allowed the Police to alert scam victims early and this helped the victims to mitigate their financial losses. More than 700 victims were alerted that they could have fallen prey to scams and were advised to halt further monetary transfers. Victims would only realise that they had been deceived after they received the messages from the Police.
The Singapore Police approach is surely the type of proactive fraud disruption activity that more law enforcement agencies need to conduct to lessen the rampant fraud in Asia.
The leader of a Taiwanese criminal gang that trafficked 88 victims into forced labour in Cambodia has been sentenced to 18 years in prison by the Taipei District Court. The leaders of the gang are reported to be members of the Taipei branch of the Bamboo Union (a Taiwan criminal secret society). The gang members began posting advertisements on Facebook in November 2021 offering high-paying, Cambodia-based jobs in customer service for gaming and gambling websites or to make pornographic videos. After the victims arrived in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and other locations, local criminals took their passports and forced them to work in telecom scam networks, or pay large ransoms to return to Taiwan. Those who refused to work or did not meet their performance targets would be beaten, locked in solitary confinement, or even sold to other criminal gangs. According to prosecutors, the Taiwan gang trafficked 88 Taiwanese people to Cambodia, receiving between $17,000 and $18,000 for each victim from Cambodian criminal organizations. Taiwanese authorities rescued 22 of the victims last year and another 30 since then.
The Taiwanese authorities are making an effort to combat organised crime. Minister of the Interior Lin You-chang stated recently that a designated police squad is to be established to crack down on organized crime. Lin briefed members of the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee on the measures to be adopted to address rising crime committed by human trafficking groups, emerging gangs and fraud syndicates, saying that:
“In recent years, gangs have expanded their operations by engaging in telecom fraud, online gambling, cross-border money laundering, arms and drugs trafficking, as well as other crimes. The National Police Agency needs to enforce a systematic crackdown on organized crime by collaborating with administrative agencies to conduct joint inspections and impose penalties on businesses and venues in which gangs invest, and which they operate and own. This is the way to cut off their means. A designated police squad to crack down on gangs is to be established, with members coming from the Criminal Investigation Bureau and police departments in cities and counties. The squad will monitor cash flow and connections among active gangs. As gangs are often involved in wind energy, construction and other businesses, each city or county police department is to have a point of contact to help gather evidence.”
The government action follows a well-publicised party organised last month by a branch of the Bamboo Union organized at the Taipei Marriott Hotel to showcase its strength and momentum, which is a common method to attract new members.
Earlier in April, the Taiwan police arrested 33 suspects for their alleged involvement in a fake investment scheme that defrauded 30 victims out of millions of dollars over the past two years. The Fourth Criminal Investigation Brigade stated that the criminal gang was led by a 22-year-old man with a previous fraud conviction who is believed to have started posting fake investment ads on Facebook in August 2021. The suspects promised investors that they would make large profits through foreign exchange trading, and after the victims transferred money to designated bank accounts the suspects moved it into the accounts of shell companies they had created. The police have identified 30 victims of the fraud.
Thai Police have arrested five Chinese nationals who allegedly operated an illegal call centre and underground lending service in Pattaya. The arrests come after senior officers directed Thai police to crack down on foreign nationals operating illegal businesses in the country, especially in Pattaya which is a major tourist destination. The same week, Pattaya police arrested three Chinese nationals and a Burmese who has illegally entered and stayed in Thailand.
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