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ASIAN GANGS CHALLENGING LAW ENFORCEMENT ABILITIES

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Law enforcement authorities in the United States and other countries are ill prepared to cope with a sophisticated new breed of international criminal from East Asia, a Senate report says.

"Asian criminal groups are a major new threat confronting law enforcement around the globe," the Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations said in a report on its yearlong probe into the groups' efforts to infiltrate America."That challenge is not currently being met," it added in the 60-page report issued this week. "There has been a failure to make Asian organized crime the U.S. law enforcement priority it deserves to be, and there has also been a failure to recruit and hire sufficient personnel fluent in Asian languages and knowledgeable about Asian culture."

The report says:

- Chinese gangs linked to Hong Kong or Taiwan already dominate the U.S. heroin trade once ruled by Italian organized crime.

- Japanese underworld figures buy up U.S. real estate with apparently laundered money and recruit American women for prostitution.

- Vietnamese gangs roam the United States invading and robbing households.

East Asian criminals also extort protection from legitimate Chinese-American businesses, smuggle aliens, steal computer chips, counterfeit credit cards and monopolize the Hong Kong-based entertainment industry, said Sen. William Roth, R-Del., ranking Republican on the panel.

"Their international capabilities make these Asian criminals a world problem and one that we should be eager to address together," said Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., the subcommittee chairman.

But too often enforcement stops at international borders and "formal methods for exchange of information and evidence as well as for extradition are inadequate to cope with international crime as we approach the 21st century," the report said.

The FBI has only seven agents with language ability to monitor wiretaps in Japanese and the Drug Enforcement Administration few-er than 20 able to wiretap in Chinese, it said.

"No sustained or coordinated effort has yet been undertaken to enforce current immigration laws against Asian organized crime lead-ers. This must change," the report said.

FBI spokesman Steve Markardt said the agency has ongoing efforts to recruit agents with language capabilities but there would be no formal comment on the report until next week, after it has been studied. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials did not return a telephone request for comment.

The report urged President-elect Clinton's administration to negotiate agreements with Japan to "promptly improve" sharing of evidence and intelligence about Japanese underworld groups that were accused at the panel's hearings of laundering money through Hawaii for buying property and recruiting U.S. prostitutes.

Legal cooperation has also been a problem with Taiwan, which is becoming a haven for Hong Kong underworld figures, the report said.