Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Portugal as Magnet for Colonial Crime Rings Rule of Chinese Outpost Macau Reverts to Beijing This Year. 'Peoplesmugglers' Act Fast

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Portugal as Magnet for Colonial Crime Rings Rule of Chinese Outpost Macau Reverts to Beijing This Year. 'Peoplesmugglers' Act Fast

Article excerpt

Customs agents were on routine patrol two months ago at the port of Lisbon, checking cargo ships for contraband, when they heard muffled voices drifting up from a cargo hold.

At first glance it appeared empty. But hidden behind a canvas tarp the agents discovered more than 30 Chinese crammed into a dingy, sweltering corner of the hold. The "boat people" had been traveling for two months on a trip that started in distant Macau, Portugal's colony on the southern coast of China.

The discovery was but one recent example of how Portugal has become a target for people-smuggling by Macau-based organized-crime gangs, known as triads. The groups are thought to be stepping up operations ahead of Macau's switch from Portuguese to Chinese rule Dec. 20, 1999. "Triad groups have clearly added Portugal to their network of illegal-worker traffic," says Manuel Palos, director of the Portuguese border patrol's central district here. "They are strong and well organized." Authorities say members of a triad known as 14K are carrying out much of the smuggling and other illegal activities, such as emerging drug operations, with the group's sources in Macau recruiting thousands of illegal workers in China, moving them to the enclave, and putting them on freighters bound for Portugal. That traffic is swamping Portuguese immigration officers, putting a strain on police, and heightening fear within Portugal's Chinatowns. More immediately, it is stirring anxiety among the nine other European Union countries in the so-called Schengen Group, who agree to tear down internal border checks. Already coping with large numbers of illegal immigrants, countries such as Spain and France worry about an additional wave of undocumented aliens from Portugal. "This is a serious problem, it's causing tension and will likely only worsen as the December '99 handover draws nearer," said Rui Carlos Pereira, a general director of the Portuguese Service of Information and Security (SIS), Portugal's spy agency, in a speech before a commission on organized crime last year. …

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