The Greatest Crime Wave … Ever?
Crime in the last 50 years
From the 1960-1990, the Big Issue for people across large parts of the world was Big Crime. The 1960-1990 peak in organized crime, globally, is interesting due to the synchronized time frames – across USA, Europe and India.
The Godfather series was emblematic of this phenomenon. The Godfather trilogy of films remained popular amongst critics and viewers alike. For years, Mario Puzo’s books remained on best seller lists. When the freed slaves of Cuba, led by Fidel Castro, tried to overthrow American-foisted dictator Batista, the US used the American Mafia, to attempt assassination of Fidel Castro. The mafia controlled trucking in the US – and a company like UPS had to pay of mafia to continue its trucking operations across USA.
In India, the rise of the underworld was delayed by a decade – as was its decline. India’s underworld, centred in Mumbai, at its peak, intruded into trade unions, films and entertainment, gambling, real estate, extortion and smuggling. The specter of Dawood Ibrahim haunts India-Pakistan Governmental relations – even today.
In May 1950, Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, was formed with Estes Kefauver and four other senators as members. Between 1950-51, the Kefauver Commission informed the American public that the American Mafia was synonymous with Union Siciliana. FBI finally admitted to the Mafia’s existence as La Cosa Nostra in the 1960s. The testimony of Detective Frank Serpico to the Knapp Commission opened to public view, how deep Mafia hooks were, into the US police.
From Publishers Weekly
During the 1920s the Gambinos, members of the New York Cosa Nostra “Five Families,” which also included the Colombo, Bonanno, Lucchese and Genovese families, controlled many businesses … Among their strongholds were private carting, garment industry trucking and construction. The mob also had … in the meat and supermarket businesses … loansharking, extortion and pornography. Additionally, the dons, having forbidden trafficking in drugs to subordinates, could not resist the vast profits and became involved themselves. Mafia founding fathers Vincent and Philip Mangano were succeeded by Albert Anastasia, who was murdered in 1957. The most effective leader, shows Davis, was Carlo Gambino, who emerged supreme in 1970, reigned for 19 years and was succeeded by his cousin Paul Castellano until he was killed at the behest of John Gotti, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1992.
… during Carlo’s reign the whole Mafia/all 5 Familys prospered more than they ever did … (ellipsis mine).
While the Italian-American involvement in crime has received wide publicity, the inclusion of African-Americans (much smaller in size and scale) in organized crime is less noticed. Similarly, the involvement of the African-Americans in crime peaked during the same 1960-1990 period.
roughly 1968 through 1984, organized crime also flourished in many of the city’s African-American neighborhoods, most of it under the average Philadelphian’s radar.
“The Black Mafia ran the heroin trade in the city,” says Sean Griffin, a former Philadelphia policeman and the author of Philadelphia’s ‘Black Mafia’, a new book that combines gritty street reporting with extensive scholarly research. “They were ruthless and ultra violent. They ruled major sections of the city, and yet somehow today it’s as if they never existed.”
The Black Mafia was “founded” in 1968 by Sam Christian, “a thick-necked 215-pound bully” and former Black Panther with an extensive rap sheet. Christian built his reputation holding up craps games and extorting drug dealers, numbers men and illegitimate businesses.
In the early days, the Black Mafia’s organized command structure consisted of 14 men, all with extensive records, most for violent crimes. As Griffin points out in Philadelphia’s ‘Black Mafia’, a book that grew out of the author’s Ph.D. dissertation, the nature of their crimes made them difficult criminals to prosecute because their victims and witnesses so feared retribution.
Of course, in terms of size and organization, it never matched or came even close to the American-Italian mafia.
Meyer Lansky character portrayed by Lee Strasberg in “Godfather II” told audiences, “We’re bigger than U.S. Steel.” It was during that era that Las Vegas was born, with millions of mob dollars invested in the ‘Bugsy’ Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel, and Havana became the greatest adult playground in the world due to huge amounts of bribes paid to President Batista and his cronies; when the Teamsters Union became king of the road and began using their pension fund millions to finance newer and bigger hotels in Vegas; and when everything from garbage collection, to juke box distribution, to construction projects large and small, to linen supplies for restaurants, to garment unions and the production companies under their thumbs, to illegal gambling…to all the ancillary businesses connected to those already mentioned…became mob cash cows.
In his book, former mob boss Joe Bonanno outlined a Commission of organized crime leaders around the country who settled arguments and set policy for all its underlings. That confession led United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Rudy Giuliani, to initiate a criminal case, under the R.I.C.O. Act, charging the alleged bosses (it was later proven that Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno was NOT the head of the Genovese Family, as he was convicted of being) of New York’s five traditional organized crime families as Commission members of a criminal organization, commonly known as LCN, or La Cosa Nostra. Each was convicted and sentenced to more than one hundred years in federal prison. Bouncing off Giuliani’s success in the Commission Case, federal authorities brought more charges and convicted more top mobsters in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and Chicago. More recently, in early 2008, sixty-two alleged members of the Gambino Crime Family were arrested both in the United States and Italy.
There is no more national strength.
Traditional organized crime families are well on the way toward total dissolution, as they probably would have six or seven decades ago.
Simultaneously, across the Atlantic, in Italy too, the mafia was very powerful. Mafia power peaked in Italy also at the same time. The death of numerous judges and police officials was emblematic of the power and means that the Italian Mafia used against opposition.
Popularly, it is believed that the killing of the police commander, Alberto Dalla Chiesa, in September 1982 marked a turning point in the battle against Italian mafia. Before that, it was the kidnap and death of Aldo Moro, initially by the suspected Red Brigade. Later, it was found, that the kidnapping and murder was done by the Italian mafia, allegedly, at the behest of Guilio Andreotti, the seven time Italian Prime Minister.
The iconic Post WW2 Italian politician, seven time Prime Minister, Giulio Andreotti was himself investigated (first acquitted, then convicted on appeal and then finally the conviction was annulled) of links with mafia. This year, (2008) this story led to a film -which detailed the long running Andreotti saga – with some liberties. The Vatican weighed in on the side of Guilio Andreotti, and Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini said, “Also Jesus Christ was crucified before his resurrection.”
Their ascendancy was followed, in the 1970s and 1980s, by that of Toto Riina, who strangled, shot, bombed and poisoned his way to the position of capo di tutti capi. Successive Italian governments either stood aside, embarrassed by the lawlessness of western and central Sicily, or actually connived in the corruption. But in the 1990s, the mafia, and the Corleone clan in particular, misread the end of the cold war. Their political cover in Palermo and Rome was removed by the collapse of the Christian Democrat and Socialist parties and several huge domestic political scandals.
This wave of crime affected Europe with crime, terror, extremism – much like India is today. But whether it was the US or Italy, the real roots of the Rise and Fall of the Mafia lay in India. As we will see.
Underworld and terror – The Indian face
On March 12, 1993, India woke up a new phase in terror. Urban terror of a type not previously known. In the space of less than 1 hour, 13 important places, including The Bombay Stock Exchange, Plaza Cinema, and some other prominent places were subjected to synchronized bombings – killing more than 250 people and injuring more than 700. For the first time, plastic explosives, of the RDX type, were used in India.
Who is responsible for Mumbai Bomb blasts?
Gold policy in modern India
The answer is Late Morarjee Desai – India’s ex-Prime Minister and Finance Minister. And with Morarjee Desai, were a whole lot of RBI and GOI officials who were behind 40 years of legislation, which created India’s underworld, corrupted 4 generations of India Government officials and reduced the value of Indian savings by Rs.1,20,000 crores. 4000 tons of gold purchased by Indian consumers, during the 1965-1995 period, at a 30% premium at today’s value – do your numbers.
These laws corrupted four generations of Indians – Government and politicians. It made gold in India very expensive – and the Indian buyer remained in poverty longer. Many gold control laws were enacted which stopped all legal gold imports into India.
These laws were derived from two sources. One, the British colonial policy legacy (motivated by exploitative aims). Two, motivated policy recommendations by US sponsored institutions like IMF, World Bank, Western Universities and academics, was continued by Indian Government and RBI. Had it not been for this policy framework, Bretton Woods system would have collapsed within 12 years instead of 25 years. For which Morarjee Desai was allegedly rewarded by the CIA. But, before that it enabled the establishment of the Bretton Woods system itself.
Roosevelt had earlier in 1933, during his New Deal years, nationalized all gold. This restriction was finally eased only on December 31st, 1974, with Executive Order 11825 by Gerald Ford. It was Roosevelt’s gold nationalization which allowed the US to wage WW2 and create the Bretton Woods system.
From 1939, (the start of WW2), gold imports into India, the world’s largest market and also the largest private reserve of gold, were controlled or banned. Not only the largest, but Indian reserves of gold, are also the only significant reserve in the world without a history of war, genocide, slavery or loot, (unlike US, UK, Canada, Australia) or to due nature’s bounty (unlike South Africa, China, Peru, Ghana, etc.).
Gold imports restriction & history’s biggest crime wave
The first effect of restrictions on gold imports in India was on prices. Indian gold prices, on an average, were 30%-40% higher than international prices. The other thing that happened was that gold imports went underground. Gold imports (illegal), called smuggling, spawned the biggest criminals that India has seen.
The common threads in this were, of course, America, drugs, underworld, war, corruption, warlords – but what made all this possible was Indian appetite for gold.
All this was made possible by the Indian hawala system of money exchange. Hawala made money transfers safe, instantaneous, at a low cost. Traditional Indian ships from a thousand ports in Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat sailed with this contraband and brought back gold.
The countries comprising these Golden Triangle /Crescent are India’s neighbours. The Indian underworld transported drugs through India. These drug shipments originated, were acquired, grown and traded from the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle.
Tentacles of the Indian Underworld
Like the American and Italian mafia, the Indian underworld, also spread its tentacles, wide and deep. In trade unions, film industry, politics and legitimate businesses.
In 1982, Dr.Datta Samant, a trade union leader, called for strike by the textile workers in Mumbai. He was the leader of Magar Aghadi (Workers’ Front), with more than 300,000 members. The strike went on for a year – with 250,000 workers abstaining from work for 20 months.
Mumbai’s textile industry, tethering on the brink of collapse, went bankrupt – and was nationalized. Hundreds of thousands of workers became unemployed – and Mumbai started rebuilding itself. Dr.Datta Samant was notionally affiliated to the Congress party – and INTUC. Since, his connections were tenuous, he had little political protection or patronage. A ‘supari’ (Indian underworld jargon for a contract) was ‘put’ out and Dr.Datta Samant was killed – on January 18th, 1997. Mumbai police listed sixteen people as accused, including underworld dons Chhota Rajan and Guru Satam, of which nine, are absconding.
Similarly, on May 7, 1994, businessman and industrialist, Sunit Khatau, was shot dead in broad daylight. Having used various underworld figures for getting his way with the labour unions, politicians, et al, Sunit Khatau paid the price for running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. The killing of Thakiyuddin A. Wahid, Managing Director of East-West Airlines, was yet another case where industry and underworld tried coming together with disastrous consequences.
The killing of Gulshan Kumar, the owner-founder of T-Series, was evidence of the underworld’s grip on India’s Mumbai-based Hindi film industry. A few years later, after the killing of Gulshan Kumar, the underworld was dictating star casts, release dates, projects, directors – and the Mumbai-Hindi film industry was in the grips of the underworld.
Indian underworld figures
One of the founder figures of the Indian (also Mumbai) underworld was Ayub Lala, who headed the Pakhtuk Jirga E Hind, an Afghani Pathan association in Mumbai. These were all small time figures – compared to the later times.
The new breed – bloodier and nastier than the previous, were represented by Karim Lala, Haji Mastan, Varadarajan Mudaliar, Yusuf Patel, Tiger Memmon, Chota Rajan, and of course, Dawood Ibrahim’s – a biological son of a police constable Sheikh Ibrahim Kaskar, was spawned by Morarjee Desai’s laws.
What’s common in the Golden Crescent & the Golden Triangle
After WW2, traditional opium supplies from (Greater) China, by Government granted opium monopolies, from Yugoslavia and Italy, were replaced by Iran, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Mexico. It was the Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent which dominated opium supplies from 1960s-1990s.
The fact that flows from these new supply sources coincided with the American ‘domino theory’ wars, against ‘under-your-bed’ Communism (in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Korea, etc.) is the subject of much research, significant evidence and many Hollywood films – which have suggested that the American armed forces and the CIA were behind the start of the drugs import into USA.
Interestingly, this period is also the background to the other chain of events – now dubbed as Yamashita Gold. Involvement starts with Douglas MacArthur and the Who’s Who of American politics, bureaucracy and military. They purportedly, extracted information from Japanese warlords and crime bosses about the fabled loot of the Japanese bosses, who ruled over Korea, China between WW1-WW2. Some writers allege that the link goes from Prescott Bush right upto the soon-to-be-the-ex-President George ‘Dubya’ Bush.
The other interesting feature of this great crime wave was fake Indian currency. The counterfeiting of US dollars is understandable. It is the world’s largest currency – and most acceptable. The GBP or the Euro are also reasonable targets for counterfeiting activity. Even counterfeiting the Canadian dollar!
But, the most unlikely target is the Indian Rupee!
India is a small, poor economy, (at least, till about 5 years ago). India does not have capital convertibility either. So, this huge counterfeiting operation raises more questions. Is this counterfeiting related to India’s Gold reserves?
The entire currency and security-grade printing is dominated by less than a dozen companies. These companies will not dare to support ‘counterfeiting’ operations – unless there is official cover or support given to them, by their respective Governments.
The invisible Indian connection
The US eliminated gold ownership restrictions in 1975. India followed. 20 years later. In 1992, India took its first hesitant steps towards legalizing gold imports. By 1995, these import control laws had been diluted to near non-existence.
Much like the fading away of the mafia in the US and Italy, in India too, after the gold trade was legalized, the mafia’s source of power, liquidity, earnings, profit were taken away. With it came the underworld’s loss of power and influence – globally. And that coincided with the reduction and control of organized crime from the US and Europe and India. And an end to the greatest crime wave in the modern history.
Today, the abatement in organized crime is ascribed to vigourous efforts by the police and legal systems. The earlier lack of success is conveniently forgotten. In India, many ‘encounter’ specialists claimed credit for the reduction in the power of the India’s underworld.
A paperback by Penguin, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia By Jerry Capeci does not mention India even once. Another book, Cops Across Borders By Ethan Avram Nadelmann which details global, cross-border police co-operation, mentions India only 11 times – in more than 500 pages. These books are symptomatic of the world’s non-recognition of the genesis of the greatest crime wave in history.
Indian social system itself does not see organized crime having any logical existential reason. It is these values that gives India one of the lowest prison populations in the world – and practically very few positions in the Forbes ‘Most Wanted’ List. With the lowest police to population ratio.