NEWS

Criminal elements go multinational as gang mergers take hold

Organized crime groups operating within the European Union number some 3,000, with over 30,000 people involved in their activities, according to an annual report produced by Europol. But official estimates of the number of groups and their members are far from precise, as the real figures are probably much higher. A late November meeting by the council of justice and internal affairs ministers of the EU in Brussels discussed the matter. Organized crime, and the initiatives to combat it, is emerging as one of the core issues for the EU, since its eastward expansion looks set to worsen the situation. The Europol report points out that enlargement will mean the EU’s external borders will extend right up to Russia, Moldova and Ukraine, countries that are centers for the trafficking of goods and people. Despite stricter border controls, the problems remain. Enlargement will smooth the path for organized crime, as the number of countries crossed by illegal cargoes on their way to the EU will be substantially reduced. According to estimates by experts, about half of organized crime groupings active within the EU come from countries outside its borders. The most worrying activities are by gangs originating in Albania, Turkey, Russia, Colombia, Nigeria and China. Moreover, organized crime groups have achieved high levels of penetration in countries that are unstable economically and politically, notably Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Judicial and police authorities are also intensely concerned about the growing cooperation between various crime organizations of different nationalities. Crime is becoming internationalized, with smaller criminal gangs of different nationalities merging into larger, integrated rings. Multinational criminal organizations seem to be the new trend in organized crime. Even criminal gangs from countries such as Albania and Turkey, which are regarded as introverted and insular and are suspicious of the organizations of other countries, now seem to be ditching their isolationism for multinational groupings. This change also affects the activities of crime rings. While in the past they used to be involved in only one illegal activity (trafficking in drugs, or arms, or cigarettes), now they are expanding their activities to include everything that may fetch a profit. Mobility Penetration of the EU by organized crime is so great, and its international character so pronounced, that the list of criminals living in countries of the Union include many from countries of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia. Moreover, the huge population movements of the last few years and the various diasporas throughout the EU function as two more factors used by organized crime to put down roots. Migrants who are dual nationals are often used as reconnaissance, supplying cover, manpower and a good knowledge of local crime gangs. The use of such forward bases was the way that crime gangs, mainly from Turkey and Albania and to a smaller extent from Iraq and Iran, were able to enter the European Union. Rapid developments in technology, to which organized crime is adapting at amazing speed, is regarded as one of the most important factors in its spread. Progress in telecommunications, and especially the expansion of the Internet, have offered opportunities for the exponential growth of organized crime, and above all, much better concealment of its activities.