Covid-19 Fallout Creates Ideal Conditions for Organised Crime in EU
Serious and organised crime poses an unprecedented threat to the EU and its citizens according to Europol’s European Union Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA), 2021.
The SOCTA, published every four years, provides insights into Europe’s criminal underworld based on the analysis of thousands of cases and pieces of intelligence provided to Europol.
The 2021 report details how the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential economic and social fallout expected to follow, threaten to create ideal conditions for organised crime to spread and take hold in the EU and beyond.
It confirms a key characteristic of criminal networks is their agility to adapt to and capitalise on changes in the environment in which they operate. With nearly 40 percent of the identified criminal networks active in the EU engaged in drugs trafficking, the production and trafficking of drugs remains the largest criminal business in the EU.
The trafficking and exploitation of human beings, migrant smuggling, online and offline frauds and property crime also pose significant threats to EU citizens, while almost 60% of the criminal networks reported engage in corruption.
SOCTA also outlines the previously underestimated levels of money laundering within the EU, with criminals making and laundering billions of euros annually. Professional money launderers have established a parallel underground financial system and use diverse means to infiltrate and undermine Europe’s economies and societies.
It also outlined how legal business structures are used to facilitate virtually all types of criminal activity with an impact on the EU. More than 80% of the criminal networks active in the EU use legal business structures for their criminal activities.
The use of violence by criminals involved in serious and organised crime in the EU appears to have increased in terms of the frequency of use and its severity. The threat from violent incidents has been augmented by the frequent use of firearms or explosives in public spaces.
Meanwhile, criminal networks have increased their use of digital means to bolster their criminal activities with virtually all criminal activities now featuring some online component. Criminals exploit encrypted communications to network among each other, use social media and instant messaging services to reach a larger audience to advertise illegal goods, or spread disinformation.
Commenting on the launch of SOCTA, Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said, ‘With the launch of the SOCTA 2021, Europol has harnessed its position as the nerve centre of the EU’s internal security architecture with its platforms, databases, and services connecting law enforcement authorities across the EU and beyond. The intelligence picture and assessment presented in the SOCTA 2021 is a stark reminder of the dynamic and adaptable adversary we face in serious and organised crime in the EU.’
Launched at the Portuguese Police’s headquarters (Policia Judicária) in Lisbon during the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the SOCTA 2021 is the most comprehensive and in-depth study of serious and organised crime in the EU ever undertaken.