On Monday (12 April 2021), Europol published a new threat assessment of serious and organised crime in the European Union. The report describes serious and organised crime (SOC) as a corrupting influence which is infiltrating and undermining Europe’s economy and society. The threat assessment is described as Europol’s flagship report on organised crime and is published annually. Its analysis indicates that criminal structures are more fluid and flexible than previously thought, use of violence by organised crime appears to be increasing, and use of corruption and abuse of legal business structures are key features of serious and organised crime activities.
The report provides an overview of the current state of knowledge on criminal networks and their operations based on data provided to Europol by Member States and partners and data collected specifically for the threat assessment. In trying to overcome the established, and limiting, conceptualisation of organised crime groups, this assessment focuses on the roles of criminals within criminal processes and outlines how a better understanding of those roles allows for a more targeted operational approach in the fight against serious and organised crime.
The report also examines how the coronavirus impact has impacted on and changed the organised crime landscape in the EU.
Ubiquity of drugs
One of the principal findings is the ubiquity of the trade in drugs in most organised crime networks.
The trade in illegal drugs continues to dominate serious and organised crime in the EU in terms of the number of criminals and criminal networks involved as well as the vast amounts of criminal profits generated as part of the production, trafficking and distribution of illegal drugs. Much of the violence associated with serious and organised crime is related to the trade in drugs.
The report talks about unprecedented quantities of cocaine being trafficked to Europe from Latin America with the profits fuelling criminal enterprises that use their enormous resources to infiltrate and undermine the EU’s economy, public institutions and society. The report also describes the cannabis trade as ubiquitous throughout the content with large-scale indoor and outdoor cultivation orchestrated by SOC in every country.
The threat assessment also notes that criminal networks have been increasing their capacities for the production and distribution of synthetic drugs. European producers of these substances are among the most prolific criminal entrepreneurs worldwide, cooperating with criminal partners on a global scale in the sourcing of (pre-)precursor substances and the distribution of manufactured drugs.
In addition to drugs, the report identifies six other key threats:
Cyber-dependent crime – the report says this sort of crime is more prevalent and sophisticated but still under-reported. It is clear that the rapidly progressing digitalisation of society and the economy constantly creates new opportunities for criminals involved in cyber-dependent crime.
Online child sexual abuse – tragically he report says that there continues to be ever more online sexual abuse of children, another crime which remains highly underreported with many victims remaining unidentified and their abusers undetected.
Migrant smuggling remains a very common occurrence with the criminal networks operating in this area described as reckless. In the rather formal language of the report “Irregular migrants are exposed to high fees for services that increasingly violate their physical and psychological integrity during the journey. In addition, they are often vulnerable to further exploitation upon arrival.”
Human trafficking has also been modernised and digitalised with several steps in the criminal process, such as recruitment of victims and advertising of services moving almost completely online. Another trend is that the boundary between victim and accomplice has become blurred, with female victims also taking up organisational roles and with seemingly formal business agreements preventing victims from identifying as such.
Organised property crime remains prevalent, especially for domestic burglaries, with more than one million cases a year in Europe. Mobile organised crime groups (MOCGs) continue to travel long distances from region to region and country to country committing organised property crime. The MOCGs easily shift from domestic burglaries to burglaries targeting business premises, physical ATM attacks, fraud schemes, cargo crime, pickpocketing, shoplifting or metal theft, depending on the season or market circumstances.
Finally illicit tobacco products are increasingly produced in the EU, in modern and more professional production facilities, established closer to destination markets.