By Eduardo Szklarz for Infosurhoy.com on September 9, 2013—
“Uruguayan authorities dismantled a criminal ring that smuggled Chinese migrants from Uruguay to Argentina, uncovering what could be a new international human-trafficking route.
Thirty-six suspects were arrested and 18 were indicted as a result of the two-year-long Mandarín Operation, which was led by Uruguay’s Special Crimes Investigations Department (DIDE) with the cooperation of the General Directorate for Combating Organized Crime (DGLCCO), Interpol Uruguay and several regional police forces.
Officers conducted simultaneous raids in the cities of Salto and Paysandú (on the border with Argentina) and Rivera (on the border with Brazil), which were used by the group to smuggle the migrants across the region.
An estimated 100 Chinese nationals have been victims of the ring, authorities said. Apparently, they worked for very low salaries in Chinese supermarkets and in the textile industry in Buenos Aires or other Argentine cities. Their final destination is unknown.
“The criminal organization was made up of Chinese, Uruguayan and Argentine members,” a high-ranking DIDE official told Infosurhoy.com on Sept. 6. “All of them lived in Uruguay and were in charge of every part of the trafficking, including receiving, moving, feeding and guarding the victims.”
The alleged head of the group is a 38-year-old Chinese man who lives in Uruguay but uses passports from Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia, the official said.
The ring’s leader didn’t have a “declared and lawful activity as a source of income,” Uruguay’s organized crime judge, Adriana de los Santos, told local media.
A Uruguayan Immigration official and three hotel owners from Uruguay’s Termas de Daymán region also were arrested.
“The ring’s leader passed himself off as an investor, but our investigation found it was a façade,” the DIDE officer said, adding the leader’s identity was not released because he had no criminal record.
He has been identified only with the initials H.D.
The ring’s defendants will face between six months and three years behind bars if they are found guilty of promoting, managing or facilitating people’s illegal entry into or exit from Uruguay to obtain a benefit for themselves or for a third party.
“It’s good news that people were arrested [in this operation],” said Fabiana Tuñez, the general coordinator of Buenos Aires-based Asociación Civil La Casa del Encuentro, an NGO which fights human trafficking. “These networks operate in conjunction with money laundering and drug trafficking, so it’s necessary to investigate who are the accomplices of these illicit activities.”
The criminal ring was dismantled on Sept. 3, when six Chinese migrants were en route from Uruguay to Argentina in a gray Toyota vehicle driven by M.Q. (Argentine, 52), according to Uruguayan Justice officials.
M.Q. confessed he was hired by H.D. to pick up the six Chinese victims at the El Puente hotel in the Termas de Daymán region, 10 minutes from the city of Salto, which lies on the eastern bank of the Uruguay River. The Argentine city of Concordia is on the other side of the river.
Salto and Concordia are connected by the Salto Grande Bridge.
M.Q. would take the victims to the Argentine side and get into Concordia without going through Immigration checkpoints, according to Uruguayan prosecutor Mónica Ferrero.
M.Q. told officials he had been performing this task for the past 18 months. He made “seven or eight” trips and received from US$500 to US$1,500 per vehicle of migrants
Once in Concordia, M.Q. usually made contact with migrants’ relatives living in Argentina. Some used to go to Concordia to receive the migrants; others just told M.Q. to buy bus tickets for the migrants to cities like Buenos Aires and Rosario.
The illegal crossings also were made by car or barge from the Uruguayan city Paysandú to Argentina’s Colón. Another route was from the Brazilian city of Santana do Livramento to Rivera, in Uruguay, and from there to Paysandú, according to Uruguayan authorities.
Chinese community in Argentina
The Chinese community in Argentina has grown exponentially in recent years.
From 2004 to 2011, a total of 16,305 Chinese received permanent residence visas, according to Argentina’s National Migration Office (DNM). The Chinese are the fourth-largest legal group of immigrants, behind Paraguayans, Bolivians and Peruvians.
Another 12,613 Chinese were issued temporary residence visas in the same period, according to DNM.
But the total Chinese community in Argentina is much larger. It has doubled in the past seven years, from around 60,000 in 2006 to about 120,000 in 2013, according to unofficial estimates.
In Buenos Aires, 70% of the Chinese population run the 7,000 small grocery stores, known as “mercaditos chinos,” nationwide, according to the Chamber of Supermarkets and Grocery Stores Owned by Chinese Residents (CASRECH).
On average, one Chinese supermarket opened every two days in Argentina in 2010, according to report by CASRECH. There is a Chinese-owned grocery store every 2.5 blocks in Buenos Aires, according to CCR consultants.”
To read the original article, please click here.