Ahead of a new report into corruption in the European Union accession countries, fears have been rekindled of the possible escalation of gangster activity infiltrating Germany from former Soviet states in the east.
Russian mobsters eye the coming EU expansion as a widening of their business interests
When the current member states welcome the ten new accession countries to the European Union in 2004, it will be the biggest enlargement of the bloc in an existence that stretches over almost half a century. Many see it as a new beginning; an opening of new and potentially fruitful markets, for export and import, and a new age of opportunities for the widening European workforce.
However, not all those rubbing their hands have legitimate interests.
Although the criteria for inclusion in the expansion of the European Union includes the guarantee of safe borders, stringent policing and the eradication of conflicts within the bloc, the push east is a concern to many who believe such nation bonding will open up new markets for corruption, crime and violence swelling over from the East.
European gateway for gangsters
For Germany, which represents the physical gateway to Europe for many of the ex-Soviet states preparing for EU membership, this is of particular concern. When the borders are relaxed in the spirit of EU inclusion, the German government and its eastern neighbors look forward to benefiting from business opportunities arising from the expansion. But the Germans also fear that gangsters operating out of Russia will increase their already worrying presence in the country through these new access points.
The tentacles of the ‘Organyzatsia’ stretch far and wide; from the streets of Moscow, through the corridors of political and economic power in the former Communist states to the cities of Western Europe and beyond. The mob has many fingers in many pies.
Germany, as the first port of call in the push westwards, acts as the reluctant landlord to these unwanted squatters, as drug networks, prostitution rings, people traffickers and arms dealers from the East establish themselves in German cities. The fear is that, when Europe expands, gangsters will sweep through Germany and into other areas of Western Europe.
Prostitution run by mafia
Much of the prostitution in Germany is allegedly handled by the Russians. The mob contributes to the lucrative trade by trafficking women into the country, mainly from the Ukraine and Russia, and by controlling the brothels in the main metropolises. Almost 75 percent of the estimated 60,000 to 200,000 prostitutes in Germany are foreigners, with around 50 percent of those being East European women from Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic. The European expansion could provide gangsters with the opportunity to expand this market.
German officials fear that an increased Russian presence could spark off turf wars with established Albanian gangs and local criminals. One specific worry is the 2006 World Cup, with security forces already investigating businesses suspected of acquiring properties to be used as brothels in cities that will host the soccer matches. Police say they want to avoid a similar battle to that which erupted nearly three years ago over prostitutes working around the Expo 2000 World Fair at Hanover.
Germany: the market place for arms
One of the more worrying escalations in recent times is the possibility of the Russian mafia dealing in nuclear weaponry or weapons grade nuclear material. The legacy of the partial dismantling of the Soviet army has provided the ‘Organyzatsia’ with access to cheap and seemingly endless supplies of high-quality military weaponry. While frauds and cons in the past have turned up nothing more dangerous than radioactive soil from Chernobyl, security forces have reported seizures of genuine plutonium in recent times.
According to a study by the Institute for National Strategic Studies, Germany has emerged as the mafia’s main 'shop-window' for such illegal arms sales and most seizures involving them have been made there, with material mostly arriving from the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Mob presence widely acknowledged
The mafia presence is a problem the German government, and the German people, is well aware of. From the brazen (a dubious Russian business consortium recently tried to sell a stolen Rubens painting back to the Germans) to the bizarre (German tennis star Boris Becker claimed his sperm was stolen by the mafia to impregnate a Russian model in an attempt to blackmail him), the presence of the Russian mafia in Germany is well documented and not just in the tabloids.
In fact, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is regularly briefed on who may be involved ahead of any trip to Russia, just in case he finds himself in their presence. Schröder also receives information on each visit to Moscow as Germany and Russia try to stem the illegal tide. But mafia expert and investigative journalist Jürgen Roth believes that not enough is being done.
Roth believes that the steps being taken by the German government are not extensive enough and that the working relationship with Russia, although informative, does not go far enough to stop criminal operations from spreading even though there have been warnings from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). In his latest book, ‘Gangsters of the East,’ Roth warns that there will be dire consequences of ignoring the dangers posed by the mafia in Germany.