Corruption feeds organised crime and organised crime feeds corruption

Julia Muravska of Transparency International’s Defence and Security Programme takes a look at the links between organised crime and corruption.

“Corruption feeds organised crime and organised crime feeds corruption.” This is one of the key points made by Transparency International UK’s Defence and Security Programme in its ‘Organised crime, corruption, and the vulnerability of defence and security forces’ Paper. Criminal networks use corruption to carry out criminal activity, avoid investigation and escape prosecution. Criminal factions who abuse international borders in order to conduct their business put pressure on public services, local communities and legitimate businesses and an easy way to achieve this is through corruption. Beyond the often used example of Italian mafia, there is also illegal logging, which relies on bribing Foreign Service officials, forest guards, politicians, police and bureaucrats to get bogus logging permits. In the United States, attempts to reduce illegal logging have been opposed by the timber industry which, incidentally, is the third largest political contributor.

picture of a gun

photo: TI Defence and Security Programme

We in the Defence & Security team have long considered organised crime to be a major contributor to corruption in the defence and security sector. With ‘Organised crime, corruption, and the vulnerability of defence and security forces’ we are trying to explore this connection further, and raise awareness about the depth of this issue. The paper looks into how defence and security forces can themselves become involved in organised crime. And it is exactly through corruption that this happens.

An example of how corruption is often the medium by which the army and police officers end up criminally harming citizens instead of protecting them is the situation in the Fujimori-era Peru. While he was president (1990-2000), Alberto Fujimori oversaw a network of transnational crime, active in trafficking drugs and arms that worked closely with the criminal group of Vladimiro Montesinos, Head of Peru’s National Intelligence Service. The Montesinos-Fujimori network relied on a chain of bribes to carry out their smuggling, extortion and embezzlement operations.

We are also concerned about the growth of organised crime – often associated with corruption – in post-conflict countries as a result of insufficient attention being paid to these issues during the reconstruction phase. Iraq is a case in point: growing organised crime and corruption are left to fester while all minds and efforts are focused on brokering immediate peace between the warring factions, with the result that the country is still dangerously unstable and its citizens’ security is threatened daily. El Salvador was also overtaken by organised crime after the end of its civil war, even though many said it a peacekeeping success.

Because of the relationship between organised crime and corruption in these contexts, our paper calls for these two threats to be addressed jointly – neither can be ignored when trying to reduce the other. Right now this is not happening because counter-organised crime and anti-corruption communities travel in parallel universes.

We must understand that organised crime cannot be tackled by law enforcement agencies alone, because it works like a transnational market – arresting the criminals does not destroy the underlying networks. For example, as an UNODC report states, the Andean region has been a major source of cocaine trafficking for more than 30 years, in spite of many law enforcement operations.

Thinking that the police or even serious organised crime investigation agencies by themselves – through arrests – can reduce organised crime is a dangerous mistake. This is because, for one, organised crime is a national security threat to many countries. Combatting it must be an essential part of their security strategies. Therefore, and due to the transnational nature of organised crime, border agencies, interior and justice ministries, as well as law, tax, and trade bodies are all necessary to reduce the threat of today’s organised crime. As a result of their multi-country reach, international organisations also have a large role to play by generating the necessary coordination among governments.

The involvement of civil society is also absolutely essential, not only in preventing the growth of organised crime, but also in raising public awareness of its victims and generating public support of governments’ anti-organised crime efforts. It is difficult for citizens to really mobilise behind counter-organised crime work. We think those combating organised crime may learn valuable lessons from the ability of the anti-corruption community to raise public support for its cause. At the same time, anti-corruption work in post-conflict countries cannot take place without understanding and tackling the organised crime that is so often found “alongside” corruption.

In fact, the anti-organised crime strategy ‘Local to Global: Reducing the Risk from Organised Crime’ released by the UK Home Office in late August 2011 gives several reasons to hope that these messages are being heard by governments. The strategy, which references Transparency International UK’s recent report ‘Corruption in the UK’, repeatedly names organised crime as a national security threat. Also, corruption is recognised throughout as an important pathway by which organised criminal activity- from money laundering to arms trafficking- can take place. It is encouraging that in its strategy the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) promises to assess the extent to which corruption is used by organised criminals and recommend ways to combat this linkage.

Reassuringly, the government has committed to boosting its multi-agency collaboration  — the UK Border Agency, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, are all named as key partners—while combating organised crime through international organisations, such as the UN an the EU is also held up as a key goal.

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