Gang Trouble Makes S. Africa Wary of Chinese; Millions in Counterfeit Dollars, Clothing, Illegal Guns, Drugs Seized

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JOHANNESBURG - The rise in organized crime with links to larger crime syndicates in Hong Kong and Shanghai has led the South African government to increase surveillance of Chinese nationals.

In the past year, raids on Chinese-owned shops by special police units, often accompanied by tax inspectors, have netted millions of dollars in counterfeit clothing, unlicensed weapons, drugs and imports on which duty and sales taxes had not been paid.

In a single haul last August, at the Dragon City complex in Johannesburg - a center dominated by Chinese merchants - police took away goods, drugs and undeclared foreign currency worth $35 million.

According to Peter Gastrow, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, who has written widely on organized crime, four triads or gangs dominate the Asian underworld in South Africa and are known as the Wo Shing Wo group, San Yee On, 14K Hau and 14K-Ngai.

"South African detectives have been aware of the involvement of Chinese criminal groups in a range of activities for many years," Mr. Gastrow said.

"These include the illicit trading of rhino horn and ivory, the importation and distribution of drugs, money laundering, tax evasion, the traffic of Chinese immigrants into South Africa, and contraband."

Police said at a recent narcotics summit in Cape Town that most lower-end drug manufacturing was in the hands of Chinese syndicates, 90 percent of them based in the commercial hub of Johannesburg.

This does not include the country's $3.2 billion international trade in marijuana, some of which finds its way to Britain and the United States. A pound of marijuana - known as dagga - retails for just $30 in Johannesburg, but, depending on quality, can sell for up to $1,000 on the world market. …