Thursday, October 15, 2009

Europe’s Fight Against Organised Crime

THE Institute of International and European Affairs hosted a seminar under the above title today that included The Attorney General and The Director of Public Prosecution as attendees.  Speakers included the Head of the Criminal Assets Bureau, Patrick G. Byrne, the Director of Europol, Welsh born Ron Wainright and the Deputy Head of Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, Gary Leong.  Former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform chaired the seminar.  An objective of the fight against organised crime is to strip to holders of ill-gotten gains of those assets.



wainright Ron Wainright, a Welsh-born history and literature buff, became Director of The Hague-based Europol last April.  Europol is the EU Law Enforcement Agency that deals with police intelligence.  Its function is to support the police forces of Member States.  Wainright described how the scale of organised crime is growing exponentially with open borders, ease of travel, and advances in the capacity of the internet combining to enable gangsters and criminals to blend a range of innovative and long established approaches to their mercurial enterprises.  These circumstances have enabled criminals to operate in smaller cellular structures and to diversify their activities as a camouflage.  Various forms of violence and corruption are used to dominate their own ethic communities.  New type of e-tools, methods of computer hacking, and data mining have facilitated large-scale identity theft and online fraud and online money laundering.

The majority of the organised crime groups operate between those domiciled within the EU and others domiciled outside the EU.   Many supplying groups, or non-EU-based groups, typically want to better safeguard their business interests in the EU and maybe also get more involved in the final phases of the supply chain, such as distribution and money laundering. They may even wish to expand their business into other criminal markets located in the EU. Originally non indigenous organised crime gangs may also regard the borderless.

The EU is considered by crooks to be a good location to invest some of their criminal proceeds and to get involved in legal businesses that are apparently profitable,  especially if the risk of involvement is dispersed and some parts of the overall interests of the criminal organisation are maintained outside the EU in the origin.

Europol considers that the organised crime  environment in the EU is evolving and dynamic.

Some groups in intermediary situations are increasingly featuring members from a mixed ethnic background so that several ethnicities and nationalities, including that of the countries of activity, are represented. Their leaders, in a guise  to safeguard their overall strategic interests, often reside both in the countries of activity and origin.

They are also prepared to use influence and corruption in the EU both in the public and private contexts and they display  an increasing awareness of the functions of the EU and readiness to control any aspect possibly affecting the criminal business.




The large scale importation of cocaine into the EU is dominated by Colombian organised crime cartels. They profit from the historic and linguistic links with Spain but also Portugal, as well as from the long coastline of the Iberian Peninsula and well established Colombian communities there. Colombians and Spanish nationals are used to co-operate within this drug market and recently also cooperation with Nigerian groups is frequently reported.

Drug transportation to Europe can be via the Caribbean or recently via West Africa. West Africa is increasingly gaining in importance as a trans-shipment zone. Recently, Colombian gangs  have developed relationships with their Moroccan counterparts in order to make use of the traditional cannabis smuggling routes, thereby enabling the onward transport of cocaine to the EU.

Most of the heroin circulating in the EU is originating from Afghanistan.  Heroin trafficking towards and within the EU
continues to be dominated by Turkish criminal groups. Turkey has ties with Afghanistan and with countries such as The Netherlands,
Belgium, France, Germany and the UK.

The majority of heroin is still transported via different branches of the Balkan routes, but a considerable amount is trafficked via the Northern Black Sea route which is gaining in importance. Dutch and to a lesser extent Belgian organised crime groups still dominate the major production of synthetic drugs in the EU, profiting from their
knowledge and experience and with trafficking facilitated by major ports such as Antwerp and Rotterdam which also act as important
trans-shipment points, for instance for cocaine trafficking. However, large scale MDMA (ecstasy) production continues to spread, in particular in Indonesia, Canada and Australia. In some
cases the use or support of criminal expertise from the EU has been observed. Within the EU, an increase of large scale production
sites outside the Dutch-Belgian region can also be noticed.

Europol consider that the accession of Bulgaria and Romania will influence the EU market in synthetic drugs. Bulgarian organised crime  groups are producing amphetamine tablets currently trafficked to the Middle East. In this context, there are indications that laboratories are moving towards destination countries in the Middle East. The large transport possibilities (Black Sea harbours and important Pan-European corridors) can further facilitate the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs and possibly also the trafficking of precursors, from principal source countries such as China and Russia, towards Western Europe – according to Europol.

All these developments might indicate that regions of the world will become self-sufficient in synthetic drug production and distribution.
With this in mind, the global dominance of Dutch and Belgian organised crime groups in relation may diminish over time. The cannabis market is the largest illicit drug market so far. Cannabis originating from Morocco enters the European continent via Spain and is often transported to The Netherlands for further distribution. Spanish and Moroccan nationalities are predominant within this activity and cooperation with other nationalities allow successful results. The Netherlands is an important producer of cannabis herb when focussing on the European market. Indoor cultivation
of cannabis is also increasing in the Czech Republic by making use of technological skills and equipment originating in The Netherlands.  The actual growing of cannabis is sometimes outsourced either to other people who have financial problems and set up a nursery in their own home or to labourers from Eastern Europe who are forced to employ their skills to grow Nederweed.


Fraud can range from from VAT, investment and social security fraud into fraud on EU funds and public tenders.  Intellectual property rights (IPR) issues and cigarettes, alcohol and gasoline smuggling are regarded as fraud due to their direct and indirect financial and tax implications (theft or evasion of revenue).

Fraud features more sophisticated and complicated schemes crossing the globe and involving various bogus and real companies, such as trade fraud, but also more straightforward scams orchestrated simply to lure gullible individuals into parting with their monies, such as some forms of advance-fee fraud. Fraud can be typified and discussed according to its main objective: fraud with direct financial benefits, and fraud with further interests to influence
the society and economy (penetration into society, acquiring a legal appearance, strengthening the control over territory through the control of local administrations, establishment of new criminal business, laundering criminal proceeds, etc.). It can be argued
that in the end all fraud purports to financially benefit its perpetrator but this is not the sole purpose of fraud; criminals  can use it in a more functional way to attach itself into various legal structures and either exploit or penetrate them. In some cases the blatant money-making aspect of fraud actually misleads both law enforcement and society in general into overlooking it as nothing but.

Fraud financially supports many threatening forms of organised crime. It is in many cases the latch that criminal activity can use to penetrate society and economy almost unnoticed. This penetration can have far-reaching implications especially when it is combined with the use of corruption to influence important political and economic decision-making locally, regionally and nationally.  The most threatening aspect of fraud is that it can be used by gangs to gain a strong foothold in various sectors from construction to transport aided by cumulative fraudulent practices and subsequent lower prices offered by OC-related businesses.  Thus, fraud has a far-reaching impact on society as a whole that surpasses its direct financial implications.

This applies specifically to venture and trade fraud, where fraud on EU funds (public tenders and procurement) is an example
of the former, and trade fraud is a main heading for different types of crimes and fraudulent practises that exploit, in various ways, the borders between the buyer, the seller, and the possible intermediaries. These expose certain key vulnerabilities in society
and the economy that can be exploited by OC with grave destabilising consequences. Concerning payment card fraud, Gangs have the capacity to exploit the readily available technological expertise and equipment (skimming devices, hackers, phishing kits, etc.) to engage in credit card fraud.  Payment fraud using credit cards is a global problem but that the relevant tools against it are mainly national, and the growing use of the Internet providing new vulnerabilities to be exploited for stealing and abusing data.  The main threat in relation to payment card fraud is that gangs supported by external experts increasingly gets involved in payment card fraud and, aided by its resources, develops more and more efficient means of stealing high volumes of data.


Counterfeiting is an illegal activity encompassing a wide range of criminal fields. It can  be a crime in itself, a specialisation and a facilitating factor for other crimes.

Counterfeiting can be divided in three main categories:

  • Currency counterfeiting (banknotes and coins), especially the €;
  • Documents counterfeiting (ID, freight, vehicle, excise, etc.);
  • Commodity counterfeiting (intellectual property rights infringements).

The countries most affected during the first ten months of 2007 were France, Italy and Spain, followed by Germany, Austria, The Netherlands and Belgium. The smallest number of euro
counterfeits was seized in Denmark, Latvia and

Currency counterfeiting is characterised by a strict distribution of tasks between producers, middle-men and distributors, in some cases controlled or, more often than not, tolerated by Mafia-type Italian Criminal groups from Lithuania, Bulgaria and Poland. Criminals from the itinerant community are among the main distributors in France and Spain. Most of the involved crime gangs have a multi-crime profile, and exploit their international dimension and all available trafficking routes to provide to other criminals and to the public a wide range of illegal products and services.

Currency counterfeiting in the EU remains a threat that, for the time being, is under control, Documents counterfeiting is a major crime facilitator. Counterfeit documents facilitate crimes such as drug trafficking, THB, facilitating illegal immigration, stolen vehicles trafficking, commodity smuggling (including cigarettes and spirits), identity theft and many types of fraud.The transnational nature of modern OC is reflected in the utmost care spent by OC groups
in carefully counterfeiting all documents to be used to cross several borders in apparent legitimacy.

Forged accompanying documents also facilitate the infiltration of illegal products into the legitimate retail sector, releasing distribution
from the clandestine enclosure of black markets, thus increasing the profits of OC groups.

The variety of official or semi-official documents existing throughout the world, combined with the ever-increasing movement
of people and goods across real and virtual borders, hampers efficient controls and facilitates illegal operations. The threat deriving
from document counterfeiting is therefore to be considered as very serious. Commodity counterfeiting is a crime which requires special attention. All Member States are affected by it, and an emerging threat is the infiltration of counterfeit goods into the legitimate retail sector. 

Thorough exploitation of the transport sector and of state-of-the-art technology, globalisation and borders are the main facilitating factors for commodity counterfeiting, making it a crime in perfect line with the modern nature and structure of international crime gangs.  The threat posed by commodity counterfeiting and IPR fraud is multiple and potentially devastating.  The sectors most threatened by it are  health and safety, economy, innovation (scientific and technological) and employment.  A side-effect of commodity counterfeiting is its  impact on innovation and research, the core  product and added value of intellectual property.  Decreasing profits due to unfair competition  by counterfeiters negatively affect innovation and research, slowing progress down.

Moreover, falling profits and shrinking markets  unavoidably lead to a necessary reduction of  working personnel, with consequent loss of

Euopol have identified five nexus points for the activities of organised crime ~ Holland for drug distribution in North-Western Europe, the Baltics for activities and the North-East, especially of Russian origin; the Balkans, especially Turkey and Spain / Portugal has become a nexus for a plethora of criminal activity originating in Africa.

Europol is integrating intelligence and shares this on a bilateral basis with national police authorities.  Public confidence is based on the transparency of its role, layers of accountability and strong data protection regimes.

A new legal framework for Europol will be introduced next January when Europol is set to become an official agency of the EU


Criminal Assets Bureau

2009-10-15 cops Detective  Chief Superintendant Patrick Byrne worked in the CAB for the first 10 years of its existence and returned to take the helm at the beginning of October.  The CAB was established on a statutory basis on 15 October 1996 following the killing the previous June of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and Sunday Independent crime reporter, Veronica Guerin.  Today, CAB became a teenager! 

The CAB is not an independent asset confiscation body but it does gather ad present evidence of asset tracing to the courts which decides on cases that are subject to appeal.  Apart from Gardai, the CAB human resource cohort includes representatives of The customs and tax inspectors, Department of Social and Family Affairs inspectors , and professional forensic experts.

In the course of 2008, €6,069,049 was paid over to the Minister for Finance. A further €2,539,709 was confiscated as a result of three Section 4 and nine Section 4A Orders made at the end of 2007 and during 2008.  CAB collected €5,891,498 in relation to income from criminal conduct. Under Social Welfare legislation, CAB made savings of €712,615 for all schemes and a total of €182,198 was recovered from overpayments made. During 2008, CAB trained an additional 57 Gardaí as Divisional Assets Profilers, which brought
the number of Garda Profilers to 82.  During the first ten years of its existence CAB chased down 114 defendents and obtained 77 orders relating to assets worth €20.74 million and £160,000.

The future direction of CAB will include a focus on non-conviction based forfeiture of assets as well as criminal confiscation.


Serious Fraud Office

SFO Britain’s Serious Fraud Office pursues frauds typically involving more than £1 million.  Each case is approached on the basis of its pertinent details.  Good intelligence is the cornerstone of its efforts.  This involves making full use of relevant information to inform decision-making at every level in the fight against serious and complex fraud and corruption.

Intelligence often begins life as raw information provided by members of the public, commercial institutions and public bodies.  Once received, it is recorded, analysed, developed and evaluated  before the SFO Intelligence team ultimately uses it for a variety of purposes.

This process may involve comparing the raw information with other material that the SFO already hold or applying different analytical tools and techniques.  They will often use additional information collected from a variety of sources to develop a particular piece of intelligence.

Within the SFO, intelligence may be used to support an on-going investigation or to better inform strategic decisions.  It may also be used as the basis for beginning a criminal investigation.  We also share intelligence from time to time with other law enforcement or regulatory bodies such as the police or the Financial Services Authority.

As part of the intelligence gathering process, the SFO encourages reports from potential victims, members of the public, employees in organisations who may have relevant information on serious or complex fraud or corruption.  We may also receive referrals from other agencies, the police, or other organisations.

In assessing these referrals they first measure the details against any relevant intelligence that already held . Together with any additional, relevant details that are found , they assess the report against their acceptance criteria.  There are several factors which can make the difference in the seriousness or complexity of a fraud.

Generally, the take on around 30-40 new cases each year.  They consider the information they hold very carefully before they decide whether, or not, to take on a case.

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