Red Mafia & Black Mafia: Asian Police-Political Theater and Sports Gambling

There are two events occurring in Asia that show the close links between organized crime and top government officials. 

The first is in Hong Kong.

The territory – nominally, an independent part of China under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ agreement hammered out with the departing Brits in 1997, is in the grip of a series of demonstrations protesting new legislation allowing the extradition of criminal suspects to China. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful until organized crime (the Triads) got involved.

You might think that non-extradition to Communist China is a thing devoutly to be wished for if you are a member of a Hong Kong Triad. Nothing of the kind. The Triads have other issues besides the Chinese judicial system to worry about. Rather, the fear is with the intellectuals, book-sellers and publishers who, over the last few years, have been putting out books critical of the Communist government or exposing corrupt officials. Some of these people have been kidnapped off the streets of Hong Kong and taken to China by the Communist government where they have been tortured or ‘disappeared’. The change in the law is, presumably, to save the authorities the trouble of contacting their criminal pals to do the kidnapping.

When the protests started, they were largely peaceful, so the Chinese Communist Government did their usual deal with the local criminals and got them to infiltrate the demonstrations. Much of the images of protestors attacking people or looting stores were actually Triad members. (By the way, one of my brilliant students at the University of New Haven, Jesse Proto, brought this to my attention). The organizers of the demonstrations were able to convince the Hong Kong public that this was not their intention, so the Triads switched to the simpler method of attacking the demonstrators. By some coincidence, the police were slow to arrive when these attacks occurred. What it allowed the authorities do, however, was bring out the well-armed riot police, who then got to beat up the protestors themselves while the Chinese Communist Government got to issue their cliches of ‘‘public safety paramount’… “keep the streets safe’… etc, etc”…


Black Mafia vs. Red Mafia

An excellent source for the connections between the Triads (the Black Mafia) and corrupt Chinese Communist officials (the Red Mafia) is Peng Wang – an academic in Hong Kong – who has written a superb books on this subject.

In his work, he outlines that the Triads are to China what the Mafia is to North America and Italy: a series of organized crime gangs that nominally are doing illegal activities but are, often, given protection by officials in return for providing useful services to the governing establishment. For example, in 1950s America, many of the most powerful unions were taken over by the mob who then gave sweetheart deals to the corporations and their politicians, who, in return gave them protection.

In China there is a long history of shenanigans between the Triads and officials involving various Imperial courts, struggles against the Manchu (Mongol) invaders and outright criminality. In the 19th century, the British and French colonial powers enthusiastically got into the spirit of things when they invaded China for not allowing them to import opium into the country. In the 1920s, during the notorious corrupt Shanghai protectorate, the French using the concept of ‘it takes a thief to catch a thief’ put a well-known Triad member in charge of their police force. He promptly instituted a ‘Night of the Long Knives’ and massacred tens-of-thousands of Communists and troublesome union organizers.

Cue current day and the Chinese Communists and Triads are firmly in each other’s pockets.

The Theater of Sports Gambling Arrests

This connection was seen in Vietnam last weekend, where yet a piece of police theater was enacted: raiding illegal sports bookmakers. For those not familiar with the mechanisms of police theater here is how they work. The organizers of an illegal activity – be it prostitution, drug trafficking or, in this case, sports gambling – are told by their police contacts that a series of raids will occur. The organizers put out some low-level operators and ‘product’ for the camera crews to capture. This benefits both sides. The police get great publicity as they pose at their press conferences in front of tables covered with money or drugs. The criminals get to promote the careers of their men inside the police and thus get more protection.

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This is not to say that everyone or even most of the Vietnamese police involved in last weekend’s raids are corrupt. Nor that these raid was a complete sham. There are always good people trying to do their best in difficult situations. It is to say, however, that in general it is very difficult to over-state the corruption of the Vietnamese police. A few years ago, when yet another match-fixing ring in their top football league was exposed, one of the main culprits was the police team.

No one in Vietnam, even the honest police officials at the press conference, say that their raids have made much of a difference in the criminal sports gambling world. The reason is that for some Asian sports gambling companies their raison d’être is not simply betting. There is a profit-making part of their business that is an important element in the connection between the Red Mafia and Black Mafia.

Another of my brilliant students at the University of New Haven, whose name I will not reveal as their family is still in country, and I have written a paper about the ‘Illegal’ sports gambling world of China. Part of our research was over a number of months searching the closely-restricted Chinese Internet for terms like ‘sports betting’ or ‘football gambling’ and contrast them with terms like ‘human rights in China’ or ‘Tiananmen Square massacre’. The results were that behind the ‘Great Chinese Wall’ of the Internet almost any reference to concepts like democracy was so suppressed that on some days there were no ‘hits’ at all. However, there was not a single occasion when we did not find millions of ‘hits’ for illegal sports gambling.

In other words, in the tightly-controlled Internet of China, someone somewhere is giving protection to an ostensible illegal activity. Here is why.

Imagine that you are a corrupt, top-level, communist official (the norm) somewhere in China. You have a problem: you are making money like a proverbial bandit, selling off public land and licenses to local businessmen. Now, what do you do with all your money? Although, seemingly unified at their ridiculous public events, the Chinese Communists are riven with a series of rivalries and animosities that can change in a heartbeat. One day, you are a loyal member of President Xi Jinping’s Great March Forward, the next day you are on trial as a ‘running dog’ thief. So you need to get your ill-gotten gains out of the country and into a nice safe Swiss bank account. The problem is that officially the Communists make it very difficult for anyone to export cash.

Solution? Contact your chums in the Black Mafia.

They will open up an account for you with one of their sports gambling companies. You ‘bet’ your millions of dollars. Lose a little – after all you need to pay for the service. Then get on a plane to Vietnam or the Philippines. Pick up your cash, minus the loses – and take it to a bank. Heck! You do not even have to go to a Blade Runner, hell-zone like Manila. Simply fly off to Zurich, get the money transfer from the sports gambling company, put it in the bank and go do some first class shopping.

This is one of the reasons why the Communist Chinese Government has so singularly failed to crack down on their illegal sports gambling. (Another is that indebted gamblers are less likely to be interested in dangerous concepts like human rights and democracy. So it is an effective piece of modern-day opium to keep the population in check). Given the power of the money involved, it makes any attempt to crack down on ‘illegal’ sports bookmakers in Vietnam simply another piece of the police political theatre and another connection between the Black and Red Mafias.



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