Contraband is big business in Greece

Organized crime in the European Union generates about 110 billion euros a year, corresponding to around 1 percent of the EU’s gross domestic product, a recent report commissioned by the European Commission found, with the bulk of that coming from the “traditional” market of illegal narcotics.

The report, titled “From Illegal Markets to Legitimate Businesses: The Portfolio of Organized Crime in Europe,” compiled by Project OCP – Organized Crime Portfolio, found that in Greece, organized crime generates just under 3.6 billion euros, corresponding to 1.6 percent of GDP (in 2010), significantly more than in Croatia (134 million euros; 0.3 pct/GDP) but also less than in Latvia, where 514 million euros of proceeds account for 2.8 percent of GDP.

In the EU as a whole, drugs account for 27.7 billion euros of revenues for traffickers. Drug trafficking is also big business in Greece, where heroin is estimated to bring in around 54 million euros a year, ecstasy 35 million euros, cannabis 28 million euros and cocaine 16 million euros. The country is a central transit point, along with Italy, Slovenia and Hungary, for the cannabis trade from Albania to the rest of Europe, as well as in the trafficking of humans coming from Africa.

Cigarette smuggling is another big earner in Greece, bringing in some 455 million euros, because it has the highest tobacco tax in Europe at 87.5 percent and among the highest consumption rates at 40 percent. The appeal of this line of “business,” the authors note, is that it is a high-profit activity with relatively low risks.

In fact, the researchers found that VAT losses from bootleg or smuggled products account for just under 1.5 billion euros a year in Greece and that the counterfeiting business brings in another estimated 1.5 billion euros a year.

The writers note that the overall figures on illicit revenues may be very conservative. Some important illicit markets, such as human trafficking, extortion, illegal gambling and some types of fraud lack estimates for most of the 28 EU member-states.

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