Following on from New York Times bestseller Midnight in Peking, Paul French released City of Devils, a delve into the murky underworld of Old Shanghai. There were plenty of wrong'uns about, and a whole lot of bad blood between them. In this 'Gangs of Old Shanghai' series, French presents us with a who's who of old time organized crime, and quite the rogues gallery it is too.
The Argentina Gang
Boss: Leo Fleischer
Base: The Argentina Nightclub, Corner of Avenue Haig & Edinburgh Road (Huashan Lu & Jiangsu Lu)
The Argentina Gang was the biggest of the openly fascist gangs in Shanghai. The group was led by Leo Fleischer, a White Russian who believed the Nazis would smash Stalin and return the country to the Tsar.
With strong Japanese contacts, Fleischer came to Shanghai via Harbin in 1940 to open the Argentina Nightclub in the Badlands (which you can take a tour of here), where Gestapo officers from the German Consulate wore their uniforms openly.
The joint was staffed by Fleischer’s White Russian cronies from Harbin and Dalian, and attracted a mixed crowd of Japanese, Italians and Germans, along with their sympathizers.
The club had a large-scale Spanish-themed illegal roulette operation, in keeping with the clientele’s passion for Generalissimo Franco in Madrid. The roulette wheels were rigged, and the Argentina also had a floor of Macanese-imported slot machines (courtesy of Jose Bothelo).
They paid huge bribes to the Japanese, and when the Japanese cracked down on the Badlands casinos, the Argentina never closed its doors, while Fleischer secured a neutral Portuguese passport to prevent himself from being busted.
[Images courtesy of Paul French]