Europe’s drug trade more violent than ever, says Europol

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The use of violence in the illegal drugs trade has ‘escalated notably in recent years’, according to Europol’s European Union serious and organised crime assessment – EU SOCTA 2021. Competition between suppliers has intensified, leading to an increase in both the frequency and severity of violence, it says.  

The SOCTA, which is published every four years, identifies shifts in serious and organised crime activity based on analysis of thousands of cases and intelligence provided to Europol. The COVID-19 pandemic and ‘potential economic and social fallout’ could create ideal conditions for criminal organisations to thrive and expand, it warns, with serious and organised crime posing a greater threat than ever before. ‘A key characteristic of criminal networks is their agility in adapting to and capitalising on changes in the environment in which they operate,’ it states. ‘Obstacles become criminal opportunities.’

Around 40 per cent of criminal networks are active in drug trafficking, the report states, with the production and distribution of drugs by far the EU’s largest criminal business. The scale of money laundering from drug supply and other activities has also been previously underestimated, it adds, with launderers establishing a ‘parallel underground financial system’ and using ‘any means to infiltrate and undermine Europe’s economies and societies’.

While the online trade in drugs continues to grow and has potential to expand further, it remains limited compared to traditional forms of supply. Global manufacture and seizures of cocaine remain at record levels (DDN, July/August 2019, page 5), with purity of the drug at retail level also the highest ever recorded. More criminal networks are moving into the huge European market for cocaine, says the report, attracted by higher prices and lower risks than in North America.

The booming cocaine market has increased the number of killings. Image by kerttu from Pixabay.

‘Latin American criminal networks are expected to continue collaborating with international EU-based criminal networks,’ the report states. ‘In the EU, high cocaine availability, low wholesale prices and a high level of purity are expected to remain features of the market in the short term. The booming cocaine market has entailed an increase in the number of killings, shootings, bombings, arsons, kidnappings, torture and intimidation. The nature of the violence appears to have changed – a growing number of criminal networks use violence in a more offensive way.’

‘The 2021 SOCTA report clearly shows that organised crime is a truly transnational threat to our societies,’ said European commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson. Seventy per cent of criminal groups are active in more than three member states. The complexity of the modern criminal business models was exposed in 2020 when French and Dutch authorities supported by Europol and Eurojust dismantled EncroChat, an encrypted phone network used by criminal networks. Organised crime groups are professional and highly adaptable as shown during the COVID-19 pandemic.’

EU SOCTA 2021 at www.europol.europa.eu