THE FBI has set up a task force in eastern Europe to fight the international mafias that threaten to destabilise post-Communist governments, and to prevent the gangs spreading west to the European Union.
Based in Budapest, Hungary, the international force will investigate alleged corruption in the financial networks run by former Communist party officials, which are suspected of laundering the vast profits criminals make from drug smuggling and other rackets.
"The biggest threat to the emerging democracies is money- laundering, and the black markets there. If those economies start failing it could lead to a non-democratic government which would not be friendly to the West," said one FBI official.
The task force, composed of dozens of FBI and other law enforcement agents, will have an initial funding of several hundred thousand dollars, but will reach a "multi-million dollar commitment", said Peter Tufo, US ambassador to Hungary. "This is a joint strike force which is intended to assist in the prosecution and trial of organised crime groups."
Five East European countries - Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Estonia - are front-runners forEuropean Union membership, early in the next millennium.
All five countries contain organised crime gangs linked to former Soviet states. The nightmare scenario for the West is that the five's accession to the EU will provide the Russian mafia with a foothold in the EU's economy.
"There have been links between …