WASHINGTON — The Obama administration moved Monday to crack down on international criminal networks from Mexico, Italy, Japan and the former Soviet Union, calling them a growing threat to U.S. interests.
Administration officials said the groups are alarmingly sophisticated and powerful, able to corrupt foreign governments and reach across international borders with illegal drugs, money laundering, sex trafficking and theft.
Potentially worse, the gangs are developing ties to terrorist organizations, the administration said. One fear: that one of the criminal networks might help a terrorist acquire the materials needed for a weapon of mass destruction.
"Organized crime is no longer a local or regional problem. It has become a danger to international stability," President Barack Obama said in a letter to Congress.
"Significant transnational criminal organizations have become increasingly sophisticated and dangerous to the United States and their activities have reached such scope and gravity that they destabilize the international system," the letter said.
Among its new steps, the administration said it will freeze U.S. assets of the gangs, block members from entry to the U.S., and ask Congress to update racketeering laws to make it easier to investigate and prosecute members.
"These proposals will help to ensure ... that prosecutors and investigators have the capacity to keep pace with the unprecedented threats posed by criminal enterprises that target the United States, including those that operate beyond our borders," Attorney General Eric Holder said at a White House news conference.
The targeted gangs were:
- Los Zetas, based mainly in Mexico. With thousands of members throughout Central America, Mexico and the United States, the gang "facilitates drug trafficking into the United States and has relationships with U.S. gangs," the Treasury Department said.
It's also involved in extortion, human trafficking, intellectual property theft and murder. In February, Los Zetas members killed a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent and wounded another.
- The Camorra, based in Italy. The collection of clans in and around Naples is believed to be the largest organized crime network in Italy.
Active internationally in counterfeiting and narcotics, it earns as much as 10 percent of its $25 billion-a-year profit from the sale of counterfeit goods such as CDs, DVDs, luxury clothing, power tools and software in the U.S. and Europe. That undermines sales of legitimate U.S. products and robs U.S. copyright holders of profits.
- The Yakusa, based in Japan. With more than 80,000 members, the network deals in methamphetamine and the sex trade, including sex tourism, human trafficking and the exploitation of children and women. In the U.S., it's active in drug trafficking and money laundering.
- The Brothers' Circle, based largely in the countries of the former Soviet Union. A multi-ethnic coalition, it has reached out into Africa, the Middle East and Latin America and serves as a sort of mediator between national-level criminal groups.
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