NEWS: US Weighs Asylum for Hungary Mob Cases

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Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (
Wed, 2 Dec 1998 14:48:42 -0800 (PST)

Note from list facilitator: While NGOs in the US are advocating for better
protection and services for trafficking victims here--- it is extremely rare
for a trafficking victim in the US to receive a residency permit/greencard
and receive witness protection (relocation, new identity, etc) even if they
do agree to testify against their exploiters--- it seems that the US Witness
Protection Program is now considering reaching out to criminal informants
working in regions abroad....a somewhat disturbing prospect...

By Susan Milligan
The Boston Globe, November 29, 1998

BUDAPEST -- Seeking to stem the rise of organized crime throughout the
former Soviet bloc, the United States is considering offering criminal
informants here sanctuary in its witness protection program, officials say.

The idea is being floated at a time when Hungary is struggling to deal with
scores of bombings and the influx of mobsters through the nation's porous

The proposal, if adopted, would offer an extraordinary opportunity to
selected citizens from this still-emerging nation: a new life created for
them, complete with new identity and in some cases disguising surgery, in a
more developed country.

One American source stressed the protection would ``not be automatic'' for
informants in Hungary, which both US and Hungarian law enforcement
officials say has become a mob playground in post-communist Europe.

While the mob has spread quickly since the political and economic changes
of 1989, regional laws -- including provisions to protect witnesses -- have
not kept pace. In a brazen attack in July, a police informant and three
bystanders were killed when a car bomb exploded on a fashionable,
tourist-packed downtown street.

Police called the killing of restaurateur Tamas Boros a mob hit -- and a
defiant message to the new law-and-order government of Prime Minister
Viktor Orban, who has vowed to end organized crime here.

Hungarian citizens are required to testify in criminal cases if police
demand it, but they are not forced to reveal information that would put
their own lives -- or the lives of their families -- at risk, said Laszlo
Gyollai of the organized crime unit of the Hungarian National Police.

Hungary has no witness protection program, but may adopt one as part of a
broad anticrime package under consideration by Parliament. However,
cash-strapped Hungary would not be able to provide such protections as
plastic surgery and new identities, Gyollai said.

The FBI, meanwhile, has dramatically increased its involvement here in
fighting organized crime, based on its belief that many of the mob groups
have ties to the United States.

After the restaurateur's slaying, the FBI sent a team of agents to Hungary
to lend technical assistance.

Legal attaches from the bureau are posted in 32 offices around the world,
where they conduct field investigations on kidnappings, drug trafficking,
and other such cases under US inquiry.

The FBI also operates an international law enforcement academy in Budapest,
where hundreds of police from Eastern and Central Europe and the former
Soviet Union are being trained in US-style crime-solving procedures.

US agents are assisting an anticrime strike force in Hungary assigned to
the bombings and to mob-connected crime that has mushroomed in Hungary in
the past few years.

Organized-crime members from all over the region are drawn to Hungary for
much the same reason tourists and legitimate investors flock here, law
enforcement officials say: The capital is pretty, the roads and banking
system are well-developed, and it's easy to travel to other areas in the

Situated between Western Europe and the former Soviet republics, Hungary
has few visa requirements, making travel for foreigners easy.

Police don't know what segment of the Hungarian economy is mob-controlled,
but they estimate that about 30 percent of the economy is ``black'' -- a
term encompassing everything from prostitution rings to tax-evading small

There have been about 150 bombings in Hungary since 1991, many of them
believed to be fights among Russian, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Bulgarian,
Yugoslav, and Romanian mobsters. In the last year alone, there have been
several high-profile murders: a newspaper publisher shot in the head while
he was traveling by car on a busy bridge at dinner time; Boros, the police
informant blown up as he chatted on his cell phone near his restaurant; and
a Bulgarian diplomat, found in his home, stabbed and with his mouth taped

Law enforcement is focusing on a Russian-speaking gang believed to be the
most powerful and dangerous in Hungary, officials said. This mob, law
enforcement sources said, has a presence in the United States.

``These people are well-capitalized, they're well-trained and
well-disciplined, and they're totally ruthless,'' said US Ambassador Peter
Tufo, who has been an aggressive advocate of US-Hungarian law enforcement

Since August, Tufo has had two bodyguards shadowing him -- a policy
instituted after the bombings of two US embassies in Africa. A massive
truck now blocks access to the embassy in Budapest.

The State Department also has received ``credible information concerning
the possibility of a terrorist act'' against US institutions in nearby
Vienna, and last week warned American citizens there to exercise caution.

The FBI in Hungary, at the invitation of the government, has been giving
laboratory and forensic assistance on major crime cases, said Leslie
Kaciban, director of the law enforcement academy. A separate team of legal
experts is helping Hungary draft organized-crime laws, including something
similar to the US Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

The FBI is encouraging the Hungarian police to do more community policing
and neighborhood walks -- a tactic aimed as much at forging a relationship
between police and civilians as it is toward monitoring street crime.

Part of the trouble in getting citizens to volunteer help to police is that
``for most of the last 50 years, police were enemies of citizens,'' he said.

At the three-year-old academy, more that 750 mid-level law enforcement
agents from 20 countries have completed an eight-week police program,
modeled after the FBI academy in Quantico, Va.

In the course, police learn techniques on combating crimes ranging from
money laundering to drug trafficking -- crimes on the increase as banking
systems develop and borders become more open. They have ``wellness''
training, meant to combat the region's lifestyle health hazards -- heavy
smoking and drinking, and an over-larded diet.

Students also take such classes as ``Human Dignity'' (how to treat a
suspect) and ``Crisis Management'' (how to contain a public crisis).

Students already have solved some crimes, just by comparing notes on
pending cases in class, and by coordinating investigatory information once
they return home, Kaciban said.

This exchange of information -- a cooperation already happening on the
criminal side -- is critical to reining in mobsters, he said.

``There is no country in the world where they can abolish the mafia,'' said
Gyollai, but at least mob activity can be cut and controlled. ``The mafia
is like the Roman Empire,'' he said. ``They can only survive if they expand.''

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