Combating Transnational Organized Crime
by Rijul Singh Uppal on 26 Jun 2020 0 Comment

As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic and law enforcement finds itself directed towards public health measures, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) has pointed out that one of the key challenges nations face relate to criminal enterprises taking advantage of the crisis to jeopardize governmental responses as well as destabilize citizen safety. This poses a direct threat to global security.


The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) defines and describes an organized criminal group as a continuing criminal enterprise working in a structure to profit financially through serious crimes. UNTOC further describes transnational crimes as crimes committed across national borders or having been committed through criminal groups operating in multi-country scenario.


Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) poses risks to global security, stability and development. As these groups expand their foothold, they also adopt new techniques that can impact public safety but also have regional destabilizing effects. Moreover, these groups easily put their foothold in countries with weak rule of law and those with high levels of public corruption.


A 2011 Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime released by the US National Security Council explained that the nexus between TOC groups and corrupt elements of government threatens economic and democratic institutions of countries. The report highlighted how these groups further get involved in political processes through direct bribery, or having their members run for office and infiltrate financial and security sectors. The infiltration of TOC groups into such sectors potentially threatens the security of a nation as these groups may build alliances with foreign intelligence services and act in concert with them to bring down the rule of law.


Activities of these transnational groups go well into the realm of human trafficking, drug trafficking, weapons and explosives trafficking, counterfeit goods, wildlife crimes, money laundering, extortion and blackmail, falsified medical goods, art, amongst others.


A recent blog by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) highlights how organized crime groups are currently taking advantage of the current COVID-19 pandemic fear to sell counterfeit medical products and in places where such groups have infiltrated the health sector, they are attempting to divert public healthcare funds, thus risking public health and safety. A 2017 study by the World Health Organization had observed that in low and middle-income countries, 1 in 10 medical products are “substandard or falsified”.


To combat TOC groups, Nations must look into the role played by facilitators of these groups who usually act as intermediaries and often operate in shades of grey between legal and illegal. Such facilitators include those in the world of banking, who provide safe havens to transfer money bypassing regulatory safeguards, as well as investment and real estate brokers who facilitate ill-gotten wealth into these sectors. Such facilitators provide their special set of skills to setup shell corporations for money laundering, fake front businesses and transportation routes for use to conceal human trafficking, arms trafficking etc.


Threats from TOC groups are complicated due to their modus-operandi. As they exploit modern trade and commerce systems by blurring the lines between legal and illegal, combating them requires global co-operation including Border Management, Container Control, Mutual Legal Assistance and Asset Recovery.


The provisions of the UNTOC on Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA), Extradition, Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners and Asset Confiscation are the recommended global tools to counter the activities of organized criminal groups under a coordinated transnational response. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Programme for Strengthening Capacities of Member States to Prevent and Combat Organized and Serious Crime (GPTOC), also supports member nations in implementing the UNTOC and acts as a facilitator for international cooperation in these matters. The most important tool to combat transnational organized crime is sharing of intelligence and information on criminals and criminal activities among the countries. Intelligence sharing is the bedrock for all cross-boundary investigations and requires capacity building and enhanced understanding between concerned officers of how different criminal intelligence systems operate.


The provisions of Mutual Legal Assistance helps nations coordinate with each other in servicing of judicial documentation and evidence gathering. This process is strengthened through formal treaties between nations, as the enforcement of letters-rogatory is unpredictable in its outcome. The UNODC has worked in this sphere by preparing a Model Treaty on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters as well as a Model Law on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters.


Another powerful way to combat these groups is Asset recovery. Depriving transnational organized criminal groups of their ill-gotten assets would deprive them of their financial powers.


The Sustainable Development Goal 16.4 reads, “By 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime.” Chapter V of the United Nations Convention on Corruption lays out Asset Recovery mechanisms and provides the framework for the return of stolen assets, requiring states parties to take measures to restrain, seize, confiscate, and return the proceeds of corruption.


The 2011 Asset Recovery Handbook published by the World Bank-UNODC Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) reveals that developing nations lose between 20 to 40 billion USD each year because of corrupt practices and these find “safe haven” in world financial centers, and highlights common approaches to recovering stolen assets located in foreign jurisdictions. The UNs Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development encourages the development of global good practices on asset return, to eliminate safe havens that create incentives for transfer abroad of stolen assets and illicit financial flows, and to strengthen international cooperation and national institutions to combat money-laundering and financing of terrorism. This highlights how Asset recovery remains a high priority on the global agenda.


The author is an LLM in Transnational Crime and Justice from UNICRI-UPEACE

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