Western Balkans named in Europol report on organised crime

Routes through Western Balkan countries remain important for the movement of many illicit commodities into the EU, according to a Europol report published on March 29 2013.

Heroin and cocaine pass through the Western Balkans after transiting through Turkey and Africa. Key illegal immigration/trafficking routes run through the Western Balkans region and many illegal migrants/victims pass through the area.

“The Western Balkans are not only a transit region, but also a major source of firearms traded on the international weapons market, precursors (ephedrine) and synthetic drugs. Money laundering also takes place in this region through investment in real estate and in commercial companies.”

These statements are made in what Europol called “the most detailed study ever undertaken of its kind in the European law enforcement community”, titled the EU Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA).

The report said that organised crime groups adapt their routes in response to effective law enforcement activity or geographical opportunities. Local re-directions occur within existing routes and new routes may emerge to transport illicit commodities with more ease and lower risk.

Turkey is the main staging point for illicit goods and irregular migrants travelling to the EU from parts of Asia, according to the report.

Turkey’s borders with the EU remain vulnerable despite intense law enforcement focus. The country connects supplier countries to consumer markets in EU countries.

The vast majority of heroin in the EU continues to transit through Turkey and is trafficked by Turkish organised crime groups from its origin to destination markets, the report said.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Dubai in particular, is a nexus point for multiple criminal activities, the Europol report said.

Dubai is an important location for VAT (Value Added Tax) fraudsters and money launderers handling criminal proceeds.

The UAE is also a source, transit and storage area for cigarettes and counterfeit goods destined for the EU.

Africa is an important transit region for cocaine, which enters the EU via the Iberian Peninsula.

Traditionally West Africa was the most prominent transit area, however, East and southern African nations, are becoming increasingly important.

Criminal groups exploit the EU’s extensive port infrastructure for the importation of illicit goods and their redistribution to key markets, the Europol report said. Multi-ton loads of illicit goods are smuggled via container ships and lorries. Smaller shipments are moved using private boats or aircraft.

Current infrastructure developments in non-EU transit countries further facilitate illicit trafficking.

Ongoing investment in Africa’s transport and communication infrastructure may be exploited by organised crime groups.

“An increase in the number of airports with greater capacities across East, West and South Africa is likely to facilitate the movement of larger shipments of illicit commodities.”

The expansion of commercial air routes from countries, which are nexus points for illegal immigration, offers new possibilities for organised crime groups involved in the facilitation of irregular migrants.

The report said that organised crime groups are flexible in responding to changes and quickly adopt new transportation routes and methods.

Facilitators of illegal immigration find new routes when law enforcement controls are enhanced at certain border crossing points causing the local and temporary displacement of migration flows.

Different means of transportation are used to conceal illicit commodities, cash or human beings. For example, irregular migrants are concealed in cars, vans, trains and on ferries. Couriers on commercial flights smuggle small quantities of illicit drugs, cash or gold, the Europol report said.

(Photo: Rotorhead)



The Sofia Globe staff

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