|Card skimming: the genuine keypad is covered with a fake Photo: Europol|
The recession has fuelled a huge growth of
organised crime in Europe with 3,600 criminal syndicates now active across the
continent, profiting a range of activities from card fraud to making fake
products. Meanwhile on Monday, Europol, the European police agency, published
an assessment [pdf] on Italian organised crime, which is the result of two
years of work by intelligence analysts, and underlines how the main Italian
organised crime groups (principally ‘Cosa Nostra’, the ’Camorra’ and the
’Ndrangheta’) are operating worldwide but are careful to keep a very low
profile, making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to detect their
“The Italian mafia-style groups are among the most threatening in Europe and in
order to fight them, a pan-European approach is needed. Those of us in the law
enforcement community need to step up our cooperation in tackling the most
dangerous criminal groups,” says Rob Wainwright, director of Europol.
The main criminal activities of these groups are money laundering and
large-scale drug trafficking. However, they are also involved in corruption,
counterfeiting and the trafficking of toxic waste. These groups’ activities are
particularly dangerous because they undermine the legitimate economy.
In these times of economic crisis, the immense assets that organised crime
groups have at their disposal (the Calabrian Ndrangheta are estimated to
generate illicit revenues of up to €44bn a year) make it easy for these
groups to infiltrate the legitimate economy, injecting much-needed liquidity
into struggling businesses.
Europol says no truly legitimate business can afford to compete with criminal
companies that can manage to produce goods and services at a loss as part of
a long-term strategy to take over markets. The criminals’ ‘expansion strategies’
mean that they are now touching parts of Italy and Europe not historically
affected by organised crime, which could cause serious damage to the EU economy
in the long run.
The threat assessment concludes with a series of recommendations for law
enforcement authorities and policy makers. Meanwhile, Europol has set up an
operational project dedicated to tackling Italian organised crime groups. The
project is fully supported by Italian law enforcement and judicial authorities,
who are playing a key role thanks to their in-depth experience in the field.
Many EU member states, non-EU countries and organisations such as Eurojust are
also involved in the project.
Europe's black market
Europol says Europe’s black market in counterfeit
foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and machine parts doubled to a value of about €2bn
in the early years of the recession.
The agency's data shows that fake products such as
medicines and food accounted for 28.6% of all seized falsified goods in 2011, up
from 14.5% previously.
VAT fraud is
estimated to be valued at €100bn a year in Europe.
“[Organised crime] is having a particularly negative effect on government’s
attempts to recover from the economic recession by draining away these resources
in taxpayer’s revenue,” Rob Wainwright told The Financial Times.
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