TRANSNATIONAL ORGANIZED CRIME
Law and Justice Around the World
Prof. Andrew Novak
DEFINING ORGANIZED CRIME
Organized crime has the following characteristics:
• Continuing criminal enterprise
• Crimes are rationally planned
• Requires force, threats, monopoly control, or corruption to insulate itself from
• Caters to public demand for illicit goods and services (economic motive)
DISTINGUISH: Terrorism, which has a political motive, and not a profit seeking one.
However, many terrorist organizations resemble organized criminal syndicates.
• Example: Irish Republic Army and arms trafficking; Al-Qaida and the Taliban and the
international opium trade (heroin); FARC (Columbia) and cocaine
THE SCOPE OF ORGANIZED CRIME
Enormous number of possible crimes:
• Trade in human beings (or body parts), drugs, nuclear material, works of art
• Piracy and banditry
• Environmental threats, including ivory and endangered species trades and
unregulated dumping of toxic waste
• Financial crimes: Fraud, embezzlement, pilfering of foreign aid, illegal export of
resources, counterfeiting of patented products, systematic tax evasion, laundering of
money from illegal transactions, etc.
Like terrorism, technology has changed the parameters of organized crime (commercial
flights for drug trafficking, the internet for financial crime, etc.).
Bleeds into corruption, as many criminal enterprises attempt to bribe or influence
government officials to preserve their impunity.
CHARACTERISTICS OF ORGANIZED CRIME
Like all economic enterprises, organized crime is sensitive to supply and demand. It often
targets countries with a high level of economic development because demand is highest.
Unlike terrorism, which often has a revolutionary ethos and seeks drastic change,
organized crime is often inherently conservative, seeking to protect its clandestine
economic activity and cozy relationships with government officials.
Ethnicity trap: The (often false) assumption that organized crime is carried out by ethnic,
clan, or kinship networks, but how organized crime follows or cross-cuts other societal
cleavages is highly politically and culturally contingent.
Mafia (Italy) and Yakuza (Japan) are strongly hierarchical and possess great influence in
their localities, having cultivated a reputation over many years. But today, many
organized criminal groups have more devolved or looser structures (similar to terrorism).
The misuse of computers and the internet to carry out criminal activity. “Cybercrime”
refers to the method rather than a particular offense, since many different crimes can be
carried out through the misuse of computers.
Fraud is the most common example, but can also include threats, extortion, stolen
property transfers, violations of intellectual property (e.g., illegal downloads), and most
Objective: nearly always financial gain.
Identity theft: Unauthorized use of a victim’s personal identifying information to commit
fraud or other services.
Advance fee fraud: Victims convinced to pay in advance for a good or service, and after
payment they receive nothing of value.
Overpayment fraud: Victim deposits invalid monetary instrument in a bank account and
transfer excess funds back to the sender.
Trafficking in human beings involves moving victims by using fraud or coercion and then
exploitation for profit. Often includes the continued restriction of movement and enforced
labor or prostitution.
• Tracked by a host of international organizations (such as the International Labor
Organization), governments, and non-governmental organizations.
• DISTINGUISH: Human smuggling, which is the illicit transfer of people across
borders. Typically consensual and does not include economic exploitation. By
contrast, human trafficking is a labor violation.
Child soldiers: Unlawful recruitment of children as combatants or other forms of labor by
armed forces. Constitutes a war crime, and may be subject to international prosecution.
• Example: The International Criminal Court has convicted Thomas Lubanga of war
crimes through the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic
of the Congo. He is the ICC’s first and (so far) only conviction.
Production: The world’s most common illicit drug is cannabis, which is grown across all
continents and in nearly all countries. Cocaine is second, and then heroin and
Trafficking: While cannabis trafficking tends to be locally produced and consumed,
cocaine trafficking is interregional and is transported and sold in vast international drug
networks (heroin is both intra- and inter-regional).
Consumption: About 5% of the world’s population aged 15-64 used illicit substances at
least once in the previous year, about 150 to 270 million people. In comparison, 25% of
the world’s adult population are current tobacco smokers.
Recent trend in the illegal trade in pharmaceutical products and in synthetic drugs
(unregulated substances that imitate the properties of traditional drugs).
A form of organized crime that is perpetuated by government officials rather than
clandestine, non-state actors such as gangs.
Defined as the misuse of public office for private gain.
Difficult to detect, root out, and prevent because it requires enforcement of government
officials by other government officials.
Worst in resource-poor countries with high rates of unemployment, or where politics is
• Office of the ombudsman, public protector, etc.
• Whistleblower retaliation protections, independent audits
• International cooperation (INTERPOL, UN Convention Against Corruption)
CORRUPTION AND THE CRIMINALIZATION OF
In some of the world’s countries, the government is so thoroughly “criminalized” that it is
difficult to tell where legitimate government activity ends and an organized criminal
This is particularly true in weak or fragile states, which lack the capacity to provide many
ordinary government functions.
In these states, there is a hidden, collective structure of power which surrounds and
controls public offices. State officials personally benefit from the misuse of government
resources (including coercion and violence) with impunity.
• Example: Zaire during the 1980s and 1990s. The state was highly predatory, taking
over all legitimate businesses and looting them of assets; public officials
misappropriated billions of dollars in foreign aid; government provided virtually no
social services and had little physical control outside the capital city.
• Revisionist view: State was relatively successful in spreading around the spoils
among political rivals in order to prevent armed insurrection and state collapse.
FOREIGN CORRUPT PRACTICES ACT (U.S.)
Broad extraterritorial application of U.S. law: U.S. citizens/residents, U.S.-registered
corporations, or corporations that do business with the United States are subject to the
provisions of the FCPA.
• Prosecuted by U.S. Department of Justice for bribing foreign officials.
Very strict provisions apply to publicly-traded corporations (including those based outside
the U.S. but that trade on U.S. stock markets), which are subject to large fines and
criminal prosecution by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
International Anti-Bribery Act: U.S. law that implements several international anticorruption conventions by making it illegal for an American citizen or business, or a
person or business acting within the U.S., to influence, bribe, or seek advantage from a
foreign government official.
Large American corporations have been hit with FCPA prosecutions, including Wal-Mart.
A growing area of practice for those interested in white collar crime.
United Nations Convention Against Corruption
United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime
• Protocol to Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons
• Protocol Against Smuggling of Migrants
• Protocol Against Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking in Firearms
Inter-American Convention Against Corruption
OECD Anti-Bribery Convention