The New Zealand and Australian Governments are worried that ethnic Chinese organised crime is menacing small Pacific Island states, says Jane's Foreign Report.

The news service said New Zealand and Australia viewed with alarm the evolution of transnational organised crime based on traffic in drugs, people and weapons.

Greg Urwin, secretary-general of the 16-country Pacific Forum - which begins meeting today in Papua New Guinea - has warned that the Pacific Islands are in danger of becoming "weak links in the global fight against transnational crime and terrorism".

And Bire Kimisopa, the Papua New Guinea Police Minister, recently conceded that corruption was rampant and "goes right to the top"; "Chinese mafia" had bought bureaucrats "throughout the system" and tried to kill people who crossed them.

In Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, three ethnic Chinese businessmen have been murdered this year.

The New Zealand police earlier this year spent over $200,000 helping bust a billion-dollar methamphetamine lab in Fiji when they helped raid a factory in June, seizing drugs and chemicals with a street value of $870 million, some of which was bound for New Zealand.

The laboratory in the Laucala Beach area would have churned out 1000kg of the drug within a fortnight of the bust.

The raid is said to have been aided by the Pacific Transnational Crime Co-ordination Centre set up by Australia in Suva last year to liaise with transnational crime units set up in the past 18 months in Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.

North of the equator, American agencies have expressed concern about underworld gangs from China, Japan and South Korea engaged in money laundering and drug running in the Mariana Islands and Guam, with particular concern about Chinese Triad gangs, Japanese Yakuza, and Korean "mafia".

The most common illegal activities in the Northern Marianas and Guam - such as public corruption, the importation and sale of crystal methamphetamine and immigration crimes are said to be orchestrated by the gangs involved in gambling, prostitution, drugs, money laundering and the exploitation of the immigrant population.

In the South Pacific, the two biggest and best-developed economies, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, have been described as the primary attractions for newly arriving ethnic Chinese.

Fiji Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Orisi Rabukawaqa warned in September that Fiji was a regional hub for transnational crime involving narcotics, credit card and passport fraud, money laundering, prostitution and murder.

Examples from the past five years included a 357kg heroin bust involving Hong Kong Chinese criminals using Fiji for moving the narcotics to New Zealand, Australia and Canada; a 74kg methamphetamine shipment from Singapore destined for Australia; and the murders of ethnic Chinese over gang and business disputes.

Earlier this year, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that some Pacific Island countries had become "stepping stones" for thousands of Chinese seeking to enter Australia through immigration scams organised by transnational crime syndicates.

The syndicates were reported to be at the centre of burgeoning "polycrime" involving extortion, money laundering, illegal gambling, prostitution, and even the plundering of oceans and forests. The spectre of organised crime undermining regional stability and development efforts has worried the neighbours of Pacific nations.

The newspaper said that rampant corruption had allowed Chinese syndicates to gain a foothold, with payoffs to officials to grant investment approvals, work permits, visas, citizenship certificates and passports identified in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji.

Fiji television reported last week that the nation's Immigration Department had stopped accepting cash for fees for passports and work permits. Immigration director Eroni Luveniyali said bank cheques would be "safer and more secure".

But Australian officials have also said that criminals have obtained diplomatic passports by bribing politicians. At the end of last year, a minister in the Solomon Islands, Clement Rojumana, was arrested over his alleged role in the corrupt granting of citizenship certificates to Chinese.

In nearby Papua New Guinea, which has seen an unprecedented influx of Chinese, the National Intelligence Organisation stated that the way had been left open for "criminals, drug traffickers and terrorists".

There are also corruption investigations under way in Fiji, where the new wave of Chinese arrivals has been estimated to be about 7000 in the past two years - a figure considered second only to the influx into Papua New Guinea, according to Jane's.

Gruesome murders of ethnic Chinese in Pacific countries as a result of gang and business disputes include the hammer killing of two Chinese in Vanuatu and the shootings in Fiji of three Hong Kong men over the lucrative export of shark fins, and the dismembering of a Chinese woman engaged in prostitution in Fiji.

Pacific hot spots


*Fiji

A regional hub for transnational crime, including narcotics, credit card and passport fraud, money laundering, prostitution and murder.

* Papua New Guinea

Police minister claims corruption by "Chinese mafia" runs "right to the top".

* Solomons

Former minister arrested for alleged role in granting citizenship certificates to Chinese.

* Vanuatu

Three ethnic Chinese businessmen murdered this year

- NZPA