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Crime syndicates outpacing authorities in South-east Asia: UN

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BANGKOK: Transnational crime syndicates are growing more powerful in South-east Asia and raking in profit by exploiting rampant corruption, weak law enforcement and lax border controls, the United Nations said yesterday.

Such groups generate profit of tens of billions of dollars each year from a rising trade in drugs, counterfeit goods and medicines, people-smuggling, and trafficking of wildlife and timber, it added.

"In many parts of South-east Asia, the systematic payment of bribes at borders is as regulated as the payment of fees in official bureaucratic systems," the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a report.

Many of the cartels, based in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Thailand, are "outpacing the ability of law enforcement to respond, while posing serious threats to public security and sustainable development," it warned.

Rapidly expanding and poorly regulated casinos also offer crime syndicates an easy way to launder illicit earnings.

Proceeds of crime are also laundered through the formal banking system in Singapore and Hong Kong, it added.

Responding to the report, a Thai Senator offered to join hands with the agency and other nations to fight the menace.

"We are ready to take a leadership role and work with UNODC and international partners to build resilience and address cross-border trafficking," said Mr Prajin Juntong, who is also a former Deputy Prime Minister.


As evidence of the rise of organised crime, the report highlighted an explosion in production of the drug methamphetamine in Myanmar and its distribution across the Asia-Pacific, often concealed in tea packages.

"The Asia-Pacific meth market is now the biggest in the world," said Mr Jeremy Douglas, the agency's representative for South-east Asia and the Pacific.

"Of all the organised crime types, meth trafficking is the most dangerous and the most profitable. It underpins the growing power of these transnational crime groups."

More than 12 million users in East Asia, South-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand consumed about 320,000kg of pure methamphetamine last year, the bulk of it from industrial-scale labs in northern Myanmar, it estimated. - REUTERS