Authorities in Argentina dismantled a ring of Chinese nationals who evaded millions of dollars in taxes and laundered money through fish export businesses, in a case that provides more evidence that Chinese crime groups of all stripes have found a foothold in the South American country.
Authorities in Argentina arrested several members of a group accused of smuggling, money laundering and evading some $23 million in taxes between 2017 and 2019 through fish export businesses in Mar del Plata, an Atlantic coastal city.
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The companies would “over-invoice operations among the companies to inflate costs, and under-invoice foreign trade operations,” according to a press release by Argentina’s Federal Tax Administration (Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos – AFIP).
They also exported the fish to two companies in Uruguay at prices below market value, authorities said. The fish was then sold to clients in Brazil and China at above market price, allowing the firms to report lower revenue.
An August 30 raid of several homes and offices across the country led to the seizure of cell phones, memory cards, and at least 10 types of currencies and passports belonging to Chinese nationals.
InSight Crime Analysis
As Chinese crime groups in Argentina grow in reach, authorities there have struggled with these mafias, whose insular communities, language barriers, and extensive contraband networks make them difficult to untangle.
Chinese mafias have long demanded protection money from members of a Chinese community who run small supermarkets in cities across Argentina. Authorities have documented a number of cases where supermarket owners are threatened and attacked, for failure to pay.
More recently, these mafias have targeted Argentine merchants operating in areas with a high presence of Chinese-owned businesses, indicating that the groups are expanding their rackets.
While the extortion rings are vastly different than the illegal fish export businesses, both are examples of the difficulty Argentine authorities face in tackling these Chinese mafias.
When Argentine authorities launched an investigation in 2016 into the largest Chinese crime group operating in the country, the Pixiu criminal gang, they had to enlist the help of an official from the Chinese embassy to listen in on the group and translate.
Members of Argentina’s large Chinese community are also reluctant to help in investigations, saying they are afraid of possible repercussions they might face if they are seen as working against the gangs, whose members live in the same areas, according to an Infobae report.
Chinese groups are known to have bribed Argentine officials. A few months after the arrests of the Pixiu gang's leaders, it was discovered that the group was linked to Leonardo Javier Rende, then-head of Argentina’s national migration commission, who was accused of accepting bribes in exchange for facilitating a human trafficking network run by Pixiu.
Smuggling and tax evasion are also common crimes in Argentina, exacerbated by a lack of efficient controls and official corruption.
What's more, Chinese crime groups are adept at moving contraband fish out of Latin America to China's large black markets, where traffickers in both regions facilitate the illegal trade.