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Italian police raid Chinese criminal gangs

June 28, 2010

by Guy Dinmore in Rome Published: June 28 2010

Italian police launched a major operation against Chinese criminal gangs across the country early on Monday, raiding illegal factories and seizing assets.

Italy’s Guardia di Finanza tax police said its Florence division had launched what it called Operation Great China in eight regions across Italy. Police said 17 Chinese and seven Italians were arrested while 134 others were under investigation. Police also seized 73 companies, 181 properties and 166 luxury cars.

Charges levelled against the Chinese included mafia association, money laundering and tax evasion, and organising illegal immigration, labour and prostitution. Some were also charged with counterfeiting, commercial fraud and the selling of goods against “Made in Italy” labelling regulations.

Police allege that money earned from illegal activites was transferred to China through a money transfer company called Money2Money, based in Bologna and owned by the Italian Bolzonaro family. The alleged Chinese criminal organisation, headed by the Cai family from Hubei province in northern China, had bought a stake in the company using the front name of their cleaning woman, according to police. A person answering the telephone at Money2Money in Bologna said the company had no immediate comment.

Police said the company had been seized by the judiciary and its activities placed under a special commissioner.

Money2Money has many sub-agencies located across Italy specialised in low-cost transfers of money abroad for immigrants.

Monday’s raids appeared to have focused on Tuscany where Chinese criminal gangs have taken root among large immigrant communities, many working in illegal clothing factories in the city of Prato.

Rising violence and expansion of immigrant communities in the medieval city have shifted local grievances to a national level, straining relations between Rome and Beijing and opening a national debate on the impact of globalisation.

Two weeks ago in Prato, masked men shot dead a Chinese businessman and in a separate incident a gang of Chinese youths armed with cleavers hacked to death two illegal Chinese immigrants in a bar full of people. No witnesses have come forward, underlining the problems facing Italian authorities in dealing with criminal gangs entrenched in a relatively closed community.

Laura Canovai, an investigating magistrate, told a public meeting that “the Chinese community is not helping, not collaborating with the institutions”.

Ding Wei, China’s new ambassador to Rome, visited Prato last Friday in response to the killings. According to local newspaper accounts, his meetings with Italian officials went badly as he complained about a sustained crackdown launched this year by city authorities on illegal Chinese factories in the city.

Chinese criminal gangs, mostly from the coastal city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province, provide a constant stream of illegal immigrants for Prato’s sweatshops, which have expanded hugely over the past decade and were said to produce as many as 1m items of clothing a day before recession hit. Many Chinese in the area have since lost their jobs.

City and police officials have been frustrated in their attempts to expel illegal Chinese immigrants from Italy because the Chinese authorities refuse to accept suspected Chinese nationals who have no identification. Italian newspapers, however, recently reported some progress in co-operation between the two sides, with Chinese police providing information on suspected gang members.

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