Unveiling the Structure of Unconventional Organized Crime

Written by | Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Simona Autolitano and Verena Zoppei (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik)

In recent years, traditional understanding of organized crime has been changing considerably. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Europol and the German investigators emphasize that criminal organizations coexist and connect in new forms in various criminal networks. Those are easier to infiltrate into the legitimate economy but rather difficult to be traced. They are also resistant towards the law enforcement authorities and prosecution. Therefore, the EU considers organized crime as one of the main security threats and it is looking into more effective ways to fight it.

Based on their research of three types of organized crime – human trafficking, cybercrime and money laundering – German investigators have come up with three main problems that need to be addressed. These are in particular a change in investigation methods and prosecution of horizontal criminal structures, revision of implementation strategies for tracking money, which is important but has not proven to be very efficient in recent years, and, above all, the need to intensify and improve international cooperation.

In order to streamline the prosecution of criminal cases, which relate to a large number of actors, investigators must not only focus on high-level players but also on complex and often interconnected networks and various criminal cells. Conviction of only the main suspect does not have a significant effect on the overall activities of criminal organizations and does not undermine their network. Investigation is successful only if the individual cases of unconventional organized crime are linked and one looks for the mutual ties.

Given the fact that organized crime networks transcend national borders, its prosecution must follow this inherent logic. The EU’s strategy for fighting organized crime has focused precisely on this aspect and it wants to increase cooperation among national law enforcement authorities at EU level. Therefore, the EU seeks to improve the mutual recognition of evidence in criminal proceedings between individual judicial authorities, harmonize the law on the freezing and confiscation of funds derived from criminal activity, and unify the laws against money laundering.

Contrary to the EU’s efforts, the implementation of the above-mentioned measures for a more intensive cooperation is unrealistic due to several reasons. First, Member States are reluctant to restrict the scope of their powers, and second, monitoring and wiretapping are very controversial topics in relation to data protection and privacy rights. In order to effectively combat organized crime, intense international cooperation is indispensable and the EU should solve these issues and set an example to third countries.

(The study can be downloaded here)

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