SOCTA 2017

The OCGs and individual criminals operating in the EU are highly diverse. They range from large ‘traditional’ OCGs to smaller groups and loose networks supported by individual criminals, who are hired and collaborate ad hoc. More than 5,000 OCGs operating on an international level are currently under investigation in the EU. This figure does not necessarily reflect an overall increase in organised crime activity in the EU compared to 2013, when Europol reported on the activities of 3,600 internationally operating OCGs in the EU. This increase is primarily a reflection of a much improved intelligence picture. The increase also points to the emergence of smaller criminal networks, especially in criminal markets that are highly dependent on the internet as part of their modi operandi or business model. Overall, the number of OCGs operating internationally highlights the substantial scope and potential impact of serious and organised crime on the EU.

The criminal markets involving illicit drugs, trafficking of human beings and migrant smuggling attract the largest numbers of OCGs and continue to generate the greatest profits among the various criminal markets in the EU. However, emerging crime phenomena such as the online trade in illicit goods and services may eclipse these markets in size and profits in the future. The online trade in illicit goods and services is no longer merely a modus operandi, but an expanding, highly dynamic and substantial criminal market itself.

Over the past few years, criminals of more than 180 nationalities were involved in serious and organised crime in the EU. The majority of OCGs operating on an international level are composed of members of more than one nationality. Nonetheless, the majority of the suspects (60%) involved in serious and organised crime in the EU are nationals of a Member State.

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The diversity of the criminal actors operating in the EU is also reflected in the structures of the OCGs. 30% to 40% of the OCGs operating on an international level feature loose network structures. An approximate 20% of these networks only exist for a short period of time and are set up to support specific criminal ventures. Hierarchically structured OCGs continue to dominate traditional criminal markets.

The fragmentation of the serious and organised crime landscape and the emergence of more groups and looser networks detailed in the SOCTA 2013 did not affect all criminal markets. The fragmentation of criminal markets was particularly pronounced in relation to highly cyber-dependent criminal activities. Around these types of activities, an increasing number of individual criminal entrepreneurs come together on an ad hoc basis for specific criminal ventures or to deliver CaaS.

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More than one third of the OCGs active in the EU are involved in the production, trafficking or distribution of drugs. Other key criminal activities for OCGs in the EU include organised property crime, migrant smuggling, THB and excise fraud.

Involvement of OCGs active in the EU in different crime areas

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International dimension and mobility

7 out of 10 OCGs are typically active in more than three countries

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45% of the OCGs reported for the SOCTA 2017 are involved in more than one criminal activity

Many OCGs have expanded their crime portfolio in response to the sustained high level of demand for smuggling services during the migration crisis.

Sharing Economy

An increasing number of individual criminal entrepreneurs come together on an ad hoc basis for specific criminal ventures or to deliver CaaS

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45% of the OCGs reported for the SOCTA 2017 are involved in more than one criminal activity. The share of these polycriminal groups has increased sharply compared to 2013.

OCGs also often engage in more than one criminal activity to mitigate risks, reduce operational costs and increase profit margins. The OCGs involved in the trafficking of illicit goods are the most poly-criminal groups in the EU. These groups typically traffic more than one illicit commodity such as counterfeit goods or different types of illicit drugs.

Many OCGs are highly flexible and able to shift from one criminal activity to another or to add new criminal activities to their crime portfolio. In many cases, OCGs operate on an on-demand basis and only become active once new profit opportunities emerge.

The integration of digital systems in many criminal activities and the expansion of the online trade in illicit goods and services is transforming serious and organised crime. Criminals are increasingly adapting the supply chain models of global online retailers.

The concept of CaaS has been an emerging feature of various criminal markets for some years. However, increasingly OCGs also openly advertise ad hoc opportunities for individual criminals to provide them with support or expertise for specific criminal ventures.

OCGs operating on an international level are typically active in more than three countries (70%). A limited number of groups is active in more than seven countries (10%).

Since 2012, Europol has been supporting the German-led ISEC project on “Strengthening cross-border operational cooperation in the fight against mobile organised crime groups (MOCGs) from the Baltic Sea Region, including Russian-speaking MOCGs”. The project has resulted in the dismantling of more than 100 OCGs. A total number of 575 arrest warrants were issued. The damage caused by the MOCGs targeted by this project exceeded EUR 65 million. These MOCGs mainly carried out organised property crime, drug trafficking, document counterfeiting and money laundering.

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OCGs use corruption to infiltrate public and private sector organisations relying on bribery, conflicts of interest, trading in influence and collusion in order to facilitate their criminal activities. Corruption distorts legitimate competition and erodes public trust in authorities and legal systems.

Corruption is used to enable all types of criminal activity. However, the prevalence and scale of corruption associated with different crimes vary. Some criminal activities use corruption as an integral part of their modus operandi.

Corruption is increasingly facilitated by online services. Some criminals use cryptocurrencies and alternative banking platforms to transfer funds to their accomplices in the public and private sector. The use of these techniques makes it more difficult to detect financial flows and to uncover corruption.


Open image in new tab OBJECTIVES OF CORRUPTION
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Violence and extortion

OCGs tend to avoid the use of violence. Violence usually attracts law enforcement attention, which is often incompatible with the profit-driven motivations of those involved in organised crime.

OCGs mostly employ violence against members of their own or competing OCGs. Violent crimes targeting rival OCGs often take place in the context of “turf wars” over territory or influence. OCGs extort property or money from individuals by intimidating their victims, threatening to carry out serious harm and murder. Very few OCGs engage in extortion as their core activity. Some OCGs offer to carry out racketeering and extortion as a service for other criminal networks and lend “professional extorters” to affiliated OCGs.

Hostage takers kidnap, hold and release individuals in exchange for ransom payments. In the EU, this criminal activity is not widely carried out by OCGs. However, OCGs involved in migrant debt payments.

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Countermeasures against law enforcement

Countermeasures are the actions and behaviours of individual criminals and criminal groups to disrupt or prevent law enforcement activities against them. OCGs use various countermeasures to recognise and mitigate law enforcement actions.

The application of countermeasures requires an awareness of the methods and techniques used by law enforcement authorities in investigating criminal networks.

OCGs use a number of countermeasures to secure their communication against law enforcement surveillance. These include technical countermeasures such as the use of encryption, foreign and pre-paid SIM cards or satellite telephones as well as reliance on code. To evade physical surveillance during transport, OCGs frequently change vehicles, often hired or leased using fraudulent IDs.

organised crime