Governments must smash markets supplied by the global “superpower” of organised criminals trafficking drugs, people, arms and counterfeit goods, the UN crime chief says. Criminals are reaping profits in the tens of billions of dollars, Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told Reuters about a report released by his agency.
But countries are not cooperating enough with each other and the United Nations, and are too focused on traffickers. “We have to start addressing the markets, which are gigantic in size,” Costa said, adding that criminals who supply those markets have transformed themselves into a well armed, transnational “superpower.”
The report, called “The Globalization of Crime,” says the trafficking of humans for sexual exploitation in Europe generates $3 billion annually, while the smuggling of migrant workers to the United States and Europe yields nearly $7 billion each year. Europe’s heroin market accounts for $20 billion, the UNODC said, while counterfeit goods detected on Europe’s borders have an annual value over $10 billion.
“Arresting some traffickers may divert the flows, but it will not shut them off,” Costa said in the written text of remarks prepared for delivery to the General Assembly. “Other criminals will fill the void as long as there is money to be made. Therefore, in order to fight more effectively organised crime, we must shift focus from disrupting the mafias to disrupting their markets.”
Costa called for countries to step up action in rooting out corruption in governments and in the private sector worldwide that allows organised crime to thrive. “We must also crack down on the accomplices of crime, like the army of white-collar criminals — lawyers, accountants, realtors and bankers — who cover them up and launder their proceeds,” Costa said. “I especially urge you to strengthen anti-money laundering and anti-corruption measures.”
He chastised UN member states for their “benign neglect” of the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, signed 10 years ago in Palermo, Italy. “As a result (of that neglect), crime has internationalised faster than law enforcement and world governance,” he said. The report says that “national responses are inadequate (as) they displace the problem from one country.”
“The threat is not just economic,” Costa said. “It is strategic, as criminals today can influence elections, politicians and the military. In one word, they can gain power.”
The problem is not limited to developing nations. Wealthy countries, including the Group of Eight (G8) club of rich nations, are also hit by organised crime. “If you look at illicit flows, they almost all head north,” he said. “The world’s biggest economies, namely the G8 and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), are the biggest markets for illicit trade.”