OPINION

Criminal associations

Whenever a major organized crime racket is uncovered, what is often most striking is how the gang managed to extend its tentacles in so many directions, recruiting so many seemingly respectable citizens. Is our society so corrupt that it is ready to surrender to anyone looking for accomplices in crime? Is our society so defenseless that whoever decides to become organized can dominate it at will? Panayiotis Vlastos, a convict who is allegedly the leader of a gang that was recently uncovered, seems to believe the latter – that society dances to the tune played by those who organize themselves. «We’re playing in the first division, we’re not in the second or third division. Do you get it?… Because we’re a good team,» Vlastos is quoted as saying in a police transcript of a telephone conversation with a businessman with political aspirations. And Vlastos had every reason to boast, given that the tapes suggest his accomplices included the aspiring politicians, businessmen, police officers, prison officials, and possibly a doctor and a lawyer, aside from the usual underworld «foot soldiers» of organized crime. The «first division» team appears to have been involved in kidnapping, murder, usury and drug trafficking. The revelations of the past few days remind us of the «mother» of organized crime in Greece, which became known as «Murder Inc.» The country was shocked in 1987 when the gang was uncovered. Heading it was a lawyer and former PASOK mayor of the Athens suburb of Nea Halkidona, Christos Papadopoulos. Dozens of people were involved in a «vertical organization» at whose top sat Papadopoulos and below him was an organization geared to selecting and murdering lonely elderly people so that they could forge their wills and appropriate their property. Gang members included lawyers, notaries public, tax officials, a civil engineer and a gravedigger. Any legitimate business would have envied the productivity and efficiency of Murder Inc. A true entrepreneur, Papadopoulos knew that he had a product (the old folks and their assets) and the personnel ready to help him murder so as to achieve the dream of easy money. In court, Papadopoulos not once appeared to have realized the seriousness of his crimes. He lived in a society which had allowed him to forget the basic human rules. If he had not found so many willing accomplices from all walks of life he might have limited his crimes, or, one might hope, he may have realized how atrocious his plans were. Society, in other words, encouraged him, and, at the same time, its police force was so slack as to allow him and his «company» to stay in business for several years. It is frightening to think of how many crimes have been committed because the perpetrators were in positions to commit them through their official capacity or because they had organized themselves. The doctors and judicial officials who sold the babies of poor mothers in the years of great poverty and civil conflict after World War II, the crooked cops and other state officials (including judges), the organized crime rackets and various «urban guerrilla» groups are all proof of a frightening truth: Whoever gets organized will find plenty of willing accomplices, and, opposing him, a disorganized society with weak self-defense reflexes. A founding principle of society is that it isolates and neutralizes those who by their actions jeopardize its smooth functioning. When nothing stops the underworld from taking over the «first division,» then either our society will get organized or it will leave the playing field to those who look after only their own interests. We still have a choice.