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ARGENTINA | 28-05-2021 02:28

Authorities break up ‘Chinese mafia’ gang in Buenos Aires

Judge remands five defendants in custody; Gang accused of extortion and attacks on supermarkets in capital.

Judge Fabiana Palmaghini has broken up a so-called ‘Chinese mafia’ gang, remanding in custody and placing on trial five defendants, while slapping a lien of 200,000 pesos on their assets.

According to prosecutors, the gang (at least two Chinese) preyed on predominantly Chinese supermarkets, extorting them via written threats in Mandarin script and terrorising them via arson and gunfire (wounding a private security guard in the leg) in the event of defiance. 

In recent years, there has been a series of attacks and threats against local shopkeepers by Chinese criminal organisations in and around the capital, with violence focusing on neighbourhood supermarkets.

The defendants in this latest episode included a retired policeman moonlighting as a taxi-driver, whose car was used to make the rounds of the target supermarkets. 

According to Palmaghini’s court, the gang’s modus operandi included “following the victims, the delivery of intimidating messages in Chinese, telephone calls from different sources, death threats to the victim’s family, intimidating actions using firearms and WeChat [the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp], which apart from being a messaging service offers cash deliveries.”

The gang is known to have been active during the first three weeks of April at least, and is accused of at least 11 crimes.

The courthouse and the Federal Police, whose work was acknowledged in writing by the judge, managed to decode some of the messages, whose veiled intimidation included such language as: “You urgently need to add WeChat N°AABC911911 to sort this out. If not, you already know the consequences”; "If you do not add me to WeChat in three days, I’ll go looking for somebody who can sort out this problem.”

The victims of this extortion included supermarkets located on such avenues as Luis María Campos (1500 block), Libertador (8300 block), Echeverría (1400 block) and Avellaneda (2000 block), all within the capital’s boundaries.

The court indictment described in detail the violent nature of the crimes.

“On April 4 at approximately 6.30pm two gang members aboard a taxi (driven by the ex-policeman) arrived at the supermarket, descended from the vehicle and approached the shop entrance with one of them pulling out a firearm and opening fire, wounding the place’s security employee in the left leg, while the other filmed the action with his mobile telephone.”

On April 9, the taxi-driver “and at least another gang member hurled something like a smoke-bomb inside the store before taking flight,” alleges the indictment.

The taxi-driver and ex-cop said that he was just doing his job and had no idea who fired at the security guard: “I cannot ask for a certificate of the criminal record of everybody who boards my vehicle.”

The video of the attack went viral within the Chinese community, according to prosecutors, used as an intimidating message to convince others to comply.

A sixth subject received the benefit of the doubt for “lack of evidence” and escaped indictment but while his release was ordered, he was prohibited from leaving the country and from “any contact” with the victims of the extortions and the attacks.

– TIMES/NOTICIAS ARGENTINAS

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