NEWS

Migrants at risk of blackmail and extortion

Criminals from abroad extort money from migrants who do not have official permits, blackmailing and even kidnapping them in order to seek ransom from their relatives. They first make friends with their potential victims, offering to help them find work and accommodation. Then they start asking for money. The sums are small at first but soon increase, while the demands become increasingly insistent. The offers of help change into threats of violence. A survey of recent cases reveals three main approaches. Some migrants specialize in tracking down and blackmailing their compatriots. They may sell them protection for their businesses, force them to commit illegal acts under the threat of reporting them to the police, or hold them to ransom. Other gangs are involved in international people trafficking. They detain illegal immigrants against their will until their relatives pay exorbitant sums Joint gangs of Greeks and other nationalities also prey on migrants. Unlike their victims, most of the foreigners in such gangs have criminal records in their own countries. The police usually find them only when their victims’ despair outweighs the fear of deportation. One of the most striking cases was solved in 2003. At least 17 Poles had been forcing other Polish migrants in Greece to commit crimes by taking away their passports and using physical violence. One man recounted how a gang had forced him to help steal a car, threatening that they would make his wife work in a brothel if he refused. Using a store owned by a gang member as their headquarters, the gang also sold protection to stores owned by Poles, stole and resold cars, illegally imported and sold anabolic steroids and forged documents. Some criminals who sell protection prey exclusively on foreigners. A few months ago the police broke up a gang of Albanians who had been selling protection to store owners since 2004. A Bulgarian woman had to close her downtown business when the gang scared away most of her customers. Greek store owners in the area told Kathimerini that the gang only blackmailed foreigners and had never harassed them. In 2000, a group of Iraqis was extorting 10,000 drachmas a week in protection money from other Iraqis, threatening them with death or being reported to the police. A Kurd who resisted was knifed eight times. In March 2001, four Pakistanis extorted money from compatriots, on the false promise that they would free their imprisoned relatives. They even killed another Pakistani who had advised victims to report the extortion to the police. Kidnapping for ransom was the method used by a group of Indians in Evia whom the police tracked down in 2003. Last August an Albanian bar employee in Kypseli was kidnapped and held for ransom by a gang comprising a Bulgarian, a Greek and a Turk. In June 2005 a group of Greeks and Albanians tried to kidnap a Greek businessman, using a young Albanian woman as bait. Perhaps the ugliest case in recent years was a gang of Greeks and Albanians who sold protection to stores and brothels, prostituted women, committed robberies and undertook contract killings. Most were caught in a police raid in September 2006. And in late 2007, police broke up a gang that beat women and girls from Romania and forced them to work as prostitutes. Led by a Ukrainian, the gang included Romanians, Russians and Greeks. The first signs of criminal activity from the Chinese community in Greece have involved reports of extortion. Though there have been very few cases, the police are alert as extortion is usually a precursor of other forms of criminal activity. The incidence of extortion is falling, however, as Christos Papazafeiris, head of the Greek police’s extortion squad, told Kathimerini: «First, because they give it up when they find other, more profitable crimes. And second, because many migrants who earlier were prey to extortionists now have legal residence papers and are less vulnerable.»