The Irish Times view on organised crime: going digital
Europol warns Europe is at “breaking point” due to the record quantity and purity of cocaine flooding into the region
The coronavirus pandemic could fuel organised crime for years to come in Europe, a continent already at “breaking point” from an unprecedented flood of cocaine, the EU’s policing agency Europol warned this week. Photograph: Remko de Waal / ANP / AFP via Getty Images
The Covid-19 pandemic is a case study in the ingenuity within organised crime, which has become more globalised and more ruthless than ever, Europol has said. The European agency’s latest Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA), published this week, makes for grim reading on how organised crime responded to the pandemic.
When the supply chain for personal protective equipment became strained last year, organised crime stepped in, flooding the market with cheap, sub-standard and unsafe alternatives. Gangs rapidly established themselves online to sell instantly to any customer anywhere in the world. The same situation arose when medicines perceived to minimise the impact of the virus were in demand, and likewise with vaccines and home testing kits. Criminals offered fake alternatives for sale online faster than legitimate traders could produce the genuine articles.
The Europol report describes an organised crime culture increasingly populated by digital natives, harnessing the power of the internet to reach victims and clients while using the darknet and encrypted mobile phones so they cannot be tracked. They generate billions which they launder through a web of legitimate businesses. Most of the gangs trade in three countries or more.
The pandemic aside, Europol warns Europe is at “breaking point” due to the record quantity and purity of cocaine flooding into the region. The revenues enabled gangs to gather “enormous resources to infiltrate and undermine the EU’s economy, public institutions and society”.
Organised crime is no longer a blight on European societies and the economies. Rather, it has become an economy and society in itself. It has all the skills, resources and discipline of a state but is not held back by any need to act within the law and can use also violence to further its aims.
As gangs become so adept in cyberspace and in encrypted communication, so too must An Garda Síochána. The most sophisticated crime has moved online; policing resources must do the same.