Heroin represents the main opiate problem in East Asia, while methamphetamine popularity is rapidly on the rise in the region, a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said.
Heroin, which has an estimated 3.3 million users in the region, is imported largely from Myanmar and Afghanistan, according to the report. Heroin from Myanmar travels to China, often carried by couriers from ethnic groups that live along the China-Myanmar border. From China, the drug is redistributed throughout the region. Heroin from Afghanistan, which has been exported in greater amounts as demand in the region has risen, travels by more complex air, sea, and land routes, the report said. Transnational crime groups based in China, Nigeria and Pakistan have all played roles in the transport, distribution, and sale of Afghan heroin; China and Malaysia serve as the largest hubs for Afghan heroin distribution. While reliable data is difficult to obtain, best estimates put the value of the heroin trade in the region at around $16 billion dollars in 2011, the report said.
Another concern in the region is methamphetamine. Myanmar is a major production center for the drug. Meth is most often trafficked to China and then distributed in the region. Labs for making crystal meth, a more addictive form of the drug, have been found in China, Indonesia and the Philippines. Meth has started to displace heroin as the drug of choice in parts of China. Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have some of the highest meth abuse rates in the world, the report said.
Particularly popular in those countries is the yaba pill, which is a mixture of meth and caffeine. Between estimated yaba and traditional meth sales, the UN report estimated that the methamphetamine market in East and Southeast Asia was worth around $15 billion in 2010.
Resource related crimes, such as the wildlife trade, illegal logging, and electrical waste produce over $23 billion in illicit proceeds, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in its Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment for East Asia and the Pacific.
A growing middle class and increased demand for luxuries has spurred demand for illegal wildlife for food, pets, medicines, and decoration. China is the largest market for illegal wildlife trade, the report said. Endangered and protected animals and animal products -- including bears, reptiles, and sharks -- are imported. Asian countries also want ivory and have contributed to increased poaching levels in Africa, UNODC said . Wildlife poaching occurs openly in many cases, and has been facilitated by the rise of Internet commerce, the report concluded.
In contrast to the illegal wildlife trade, which is often conducted in secrecy, consumers who buy wood and wood-based products are often unaware that the products are illegal, the report said. Indonesia and Malaysia are important sources for illegal wood; processing of the wood takes place largely China and Vietnam. The report valued the illegal wood and wood-based products trade at approximately $17 billion. Official corruption plays a “central role” in the illegal logging industry as the success of the illicit trade relies on bribery and the ability to ensure unhindered transport. For this reason, very little illegal wood is seized, the UNODC report said.
A byproduct of the wireless era, electronic waste (e-waste), is the “fastest growing waste stream in the world,” the report said. The rapid advancement of technology caused a high turnover of electronic goods, especially in the richer countries. To avoid the cost that proper disposal and recycling would require, e-waste is diverted to the black market, where environmentally unsound “so-called” recycling occurs. The report mentions a number of risks, including pollution caused by burnt plastic, lead, and other toxins. China is the largest destination for e-waste; the illegal industry as a whole is worth around $3.75 billion.
The report also touched on the continuing threat posed by the illegal trade in ozone depleting substances (ODS). While harmful to the environment, ODS are highly sought after as cheap coolants for refrigerators and air conditioning. ODS include chlorofluorocarbons, which are controlled under the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to limit the use of certain types of ODS. Under the Montreal Protocol, developing nations were given longer to phase out the use of ODS than developed nations, which caused a black market to emerge. Attempts to control illegal trade in ODS between developing and developed nations through licensing and registration programs, efforts have been hamstrung by a lack of routine cross-checks between nations of origin and arrival, according to the report. Mis-declaration, hidden shipments and false labeling exacerbate the problem.
Human trafficking and migrant worker exploitation are serious concerns in Asia, and represent hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit revenue, according to a new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The report divided the trafficking into four distinct categories: smuggling within the region, for sexual exploitation, to the US and EU, and to Australia and Canada.
The UNODC report states that Myanmar represents the largest source of undocumented workers, and the most sought after destination is Thailand. The report agrees that many undocumented immigrants find higher wages than at home, but notes that some voluntary migrants unwittingly fall into an exploitative situation.
High levels of regional sex tourism drive demand for trafficking of women and girls, the second major concern the report focused on. The industry is most prevalent in Thailand, with as many as 250,000 sex workers in the country, the report stated. Traffickers use debt bondage as one method of control over their victims, the report said, but noted that some sex workers stay in the illicit trade by choice.
The report also touched on illegal immigration, through Chinese and Vietnamese smuggling networks, to Western Europe and the United States. Would-be undocumented migrants from China pay around $50,000 for a smuggler’s aid; based on the estimated number of illegally employed Chinese that enter the US yearly, that would mean a $600 million dollar market. The cost to enter the EU is somewhat lower, estimated at around $17,000.
More complicated are undocumented migrations from West and South Asia to Australia and Canada. A large percentage of these migrants will claim asylum when they reach their goal. Both Australia and Canada have large diaspora populations, a driving force behind their popularity, the report notes. Asylum seekers trying to reach Australia from South Asia travel to a transit country -- Indonesia is the most popular -- and load boats for the trip to Australia, the report said. The route is hazardous, and ships have sunk before the refugees reached Australia. Canada is most popular among Sri Lankan migrants, with air travel most frequently used.
The report suggests that legal migration be expanded to counter demand for illicit services. It stated that labor rights of all migrants should be respected, regardless of visa status, and the punishment for mistreatment of those illegally employing workers should be strengthened.
In an effort to combat organized crime in the region, representatives from several Western Balkan states have pledged to work together on policing and prosecution, according to the Serbian news outlet Tanjug.
At a conference in Belgrade, Ministers of Justice and the Interior from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia planned regional cooperation against organized crime groups.
Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić, who has himself been accused of involvement in organized crime, stressed the need to establish a regional arrest warrant, similar to Europol's. He also proposed that the region form joint investigation teams to facilitate the exchange of information and evidence.
"The fight against corruption and crime will remain among the most important priorities of the government of Serbia and the state authorities," Dacic said, according to the English translation portal Sina English, which also reported that the politicians all signed a letter of intent to ratify a convention allowing cross-border enforcement of criminal judgments.
In recent years, cross-border organized crime has begun displacing domestic criminal groups, OCCRP's Executive Director Paul Radu explained at a European Parliament conference on April 10.
"Whenever you have a transnational organized crime group, this group moves very fast," Radu said, "and for law enforcement it's hard to keep up with these movements, with these very flexible structures, because the change of information across official networks is sometimes not working very well."
Mexican drug cartels are increasingly looking to move onto the European mainland, according to a Europol press release on Friday.
Groups like Los Zetas are responsible for human trafficking from Europe to Mexico, and weapons from Southeast Europe are transported by Mexican gangs for sale in South and Central America, the press release stated. The Sinaloa Cartel recently attempted to expand their wholesale cocaine business, but was thwarted by an intelligence operation, according to Europol.
Mexican organized crime groups have developed a “central role” in international crime, dominate the global cocaine market, and play a large role in the export of synthetic drugs to Europe and Asia, the press release said.
Europol’s latest threat notice on Mexican cartels also points to increased direct cooperation between organized crime groups, who now form “direct agreements” with producers, shippers and buyers, creating a global network which stretches from Mexico, to South America, Africa, and then to Europe.
The Mexican government reported that 4,249 deaths linked to organized crime had taken place between December 1 and April10, according to the New York Times. That number represented a decrease of 14 percent over the same period last year.
“We do not want the level of violence and brutality which we see in Mexico mirrored in Europe,” Europol director Rob Wainwright said in the press release.
In response to the high-profile posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who died in jail after exposing a massive tax fraud in the Kremlin, the United States Senate published on Friday a list of 18 Russians who would be forbidden to enter the United States, White House spokesman Jay Carney announced in a press conference.
The list is the result of the Magnitsky Act, signed into law last December, which bars the Russian officials from entering the United States as punishment for their implication in human rights abuses surrounding the Magnitsky case.
Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who was imprisoned after blowing the whistle on Russian officials who defrauded the government of $230 million in tax proceeds and laundered it through a web of phantom companies and offshore accounts. Magnitsky was arrested and charged with the very fraud he uncovered. For four months prior to his death in jail in 2009, Magnistky was held at Butyrka detention center where he was denied treatment for pancreatitis and gallstones.
The complete Magnitsky blacklist exceeds the 18 members revealed on Friday, but only those names that will be made public.
Authorities in Moscow promptly retaliated on Saturday with their own list of 18 Americans who will be banned from entering Russia. Some were chosen for their proximity to "the legalization and application of torture" by the United States government, according to a Reuters report.
Neither list included senior political or diplomatic figures.
Europol arrested 19 people for their participation in an organized network of Albanian drug traffickers, according to a statement the law enforcement agency released Thursday. The arrests took place in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Albania. The accused are primarily Albanian nationals.
The operation came after more than two years of investigation into the group's activities. That investigation began in Italy in 2010, led by an Anti-Mafia Prosecution office, and culminated in an international effort.
The Albanian Organized Crime groups constitute one of the most expanding and networked criminal groups in Europe, according to Europol.
A multi-agency operation targeted two groups from Austin, Texas, with alleged ties to a violent Mexican organized crime group for drug production and trafficking, according to a press release from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The first operation followed a grand jury indictment that charged 27 with conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with the intent to distribute. The indictment also charged the group with meth distribution, heroin distribution and money laundering charges.
The narco-traffickers reportedly have ties to the Knights Templar, a violent Mexican drug cartel that operates in the Michoacan region of Mexico, which lies west of Mexico City.
The drug traffickers allegedly used hidden compartments in cars to stash the narcotics for transport to a body shop, where the drugs were prepared for shipment and sale. Law enforcement officers found over 75kg of methamphetamine, 10kg of cocaine and two kg of heroin.
A second grand jury indictment charged 14 others with involvement in a separate cocaine and methamphetamine distribution network. Charges included conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine and methamphetamine, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Authorities seized over $1,000,000 in drug proceeds and confiscated kilos of cocaine and marijuana.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and US Drug Enforcement Agency were involved in the investigation. The Central Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a coalition of 18 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, was also involved.
The Czech government approved a measure that would, if passed by parliament, require political parties to publicly disclose financial statements on the Internet. The bill is meant to fight corruption ahead of elections in 2014, AFP reported, but serious shortcomings may limit its success.
Prime Minister Petr Necas said he expected the bill to bring about “transparent financing and control over such financing,” according to AFP. The financing bill is part of a broader crackdown on corruption that includes legislation that ends the lifetime immunity enjoyed by judges and lawmakers. That legislation is to take effect in May, AFP reported.
The Czech Republic ranked 54th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in 2012, lower than neighbors Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Necas’s center-right government desperately needs to tackle perceptions of corruption. The Prime Minister’s coalition lost its majority in the 2012 Senate elections: the inability of the government to curb corruption, coupled with unpopular austerity measures, was blamed for the loss, Radio Prague reported.
Necas has said his party has to do “everything we can so that this failure is not repeated,” according to Reuters. Convincing the public the government is serious about tackling corruption would be a good first step.
The Council of Europe voiced unease at the lack of an independent campaign finance monitoring body, and “serious concerns about the pace of [campaign finance] reform,” the Wall Street Journal blog “Emerging Europe” reported on Thursday. Necas’s own party is opposed to the idea. A spokesman for the party told “Emerging Europe” that another layer of bureaucracy was unnecessary.
As part of its extensive philanthropic program, Google announced on Tuesday that it would award a $3 million grant to fight global human trafficking.The award goes to three non-governmental organizations stationed in various regions who will work together on the project.
Human trafficking is a diverse, complex, and globalized illicit trade, and its transnational nature makes efficient investigation quite difficult. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that fight trafficking often work on a domestic level, and information sharing between groups is limited.
But the grant, which will create a global network to share information and map trends in human trafficking, aims to change that. Polaris Project, La Strada International, and Liberty Asia shared the prize, and will collaborate on the project. The Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network, will allow NGOs to share data to identify the most vulnerable populations and areas, and highlight patterns in human trafficking, Polaris Project employees said in a project launch video. Network members will also standardize policies and data collection, and share best practices, USA Today reported.
La Strada International is a European NGO network with eight member organizations in Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Moldova, The Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine, and an international secretariat based in Amsterdam. Polaris Project is based in the United States while Liberty Asia works across the continent.
Google Giving, the philanthropic arm of Google, sees the Hotline Network as a way to even the odds in the fight against trafficking. "The bad guys have been using technology in a much more savvy way," Jacquelline Fuller, director of Google Giving, told USA Today. "They are very savvy and sophisticated in identifying who's vulnerable and evading capture. We want to enable the good guys to use technology in highly leveraged ways, so they can innovate faster than the opposition."
The Google grant will be used to cover travel costs and aid network development through the addition of more hotlines and improved technology to share data. The organizations have seen success individually: Polaris Project has received more than 70,000 calls since it opened. Through this collaboration, the organizations hope to see their success multiply. "Hotlines work. Now it's a matter of taking the proof and scale that globally. Anywhere a victim is, there (should be a) hotline that covers that area," Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris Project, told USA Today.
Google has given more than $14.5 million to similar anti-trafficking efforts, including a previous grant to Polaris Project in 2011.