View of several bundles containing hash during a raid at the naval base in Spain. The ships were chartered by a gang from Eastern Europe. Photo: EPA-EFE/Angel Medina
The report published on Friday by the Siracusa International Institute for Criminal Justice and Human Rights says that the illicit trade in drugs is being prioritised by South-East European countries over the illegal dealing in small arms and light weapons, tobacco products, cultural property, and human trafficking and migrant-smuggling.
The report entitled ‘Closing the Implementation Gap: Criminal Justice Responses to Illicit Trade in South Eastern Europe and Associated Challenges’ says that the illegal narcotics trade “accounts for the bulk of investigations and prosecutions in reality”.
It says that “criminal justice systems primarily invest their resources in responding to drug-related offences and, even in this context, drug possession is much more frequently charged than graver trafficking offences”.
Other criminal offences, such as trafficking in human beings, attract a significantly lower number of investigations and prosecutions, the report adds, “even though most SEE [South-East European] countries are major origin, transit and destination countries for trafficked persons”.
The report argues that one explanation might be that prosecutors in several countries display a tendency to mis-classify human trafficking cases as prostitution so they are easier to prove. But it says that this practice does not reflect the exploitation involved in the trafficking in human beings.
As to the scale of the illicit trade in tobacco products in the region, the report suggests that the level at which it goes undetected may be very high.
“Small groups, families and individuals, including in diaspora communities, also play a part in distribution [of tobacco products] throughout destination markets,” it says.
The report says that the forms of illicit trade, including illegal dealing in cultural property, medical products, counterfeit goods, alcohol, stolen vehicles, crude oil and petroleum products, as well as waste trafficking and other types of environmental crimes also go neglected by law enforcement agencies in South-East Europe.
“A combination of factors likely explains this, including the possibility that certain types of illicit trade are perpetrated less frequently than others. However, the [Siracusa] Institute’s consultations have emphasised that higher political priority is traditionally assigned to some crime types and not others,” it says.
“Consequently, investigators may not have adequate tools, skills or expertise to detect egregious manifestations of illicit trade that simply flow ‘under the radar’,” it adds.
The report also argues that cooperation between organised criminal groups and public officials obstructs detection efforts at their root.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will probably put a lot of pressure on the resources of governments in South-East Europe and so fighting criminal networks might not be a top priority due to increasing unemployment, stretched public health services and the emigration of the region’s youth, it suggests.
“But it is also true that SEE countries may observe a surge of people turning to illicit trade as a way to meet their essential needs. A rise in illegal migration, from which criminal networks benefit greatly, is already evident,” the report says.