Serious and organised crime in the European Union

Europol has recently published a threat assessment of serious and organised crime in the European Union (EU), the SOCTA 2021. Published every four years, the SOCTA presents a detailed analysis of the threat of serious and organised crime facing the EU.

The SOCTA 2021 details the operations of criminal networks in the EU and how their criminal activities and commercial practices threaten to infiltrate and undermine our societies, economies and institutions, slowly weakening the rule of law. The report provides unprecedented information on Europe’s criminal underworld based on the analysis of thousands of cases and information supplied o Europol.

The key findings to come out of the SOCTA 2021 include:

Serious and organised crime has never posed such an extreme threat to the EU and its citizens as it does today.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic and social consequences expected to follow, threaten to create the ideal conditions for organised crime to spread throughout the EU and beyond. A key characteristic of criminal networks, once more confirmed by the pandemic, is their agility in adapting to and capitalising on changes in the environment in which they operate.

Similar to a business environment, the core of a criminal network is composed of managerial layers and field operators. This core is surrounded by a range of actors linked to the crime infrastructure providing support services.

With close to 40% of criminal networks involved in the manufacture and trafficking of drugs, it remains the most significant criminal activity in the EU.

The traffic and exploitation of human beings, smuggling of immigrants, online and offline fraud and property crimes pose significant threats to EU citizens.

Criminals use corruption. Almost 60 % of the criminal groups reported on engage in corruption.

Criminals earn and launder billions of euros every year. The scale and complexity of money laundering activities in the EU have previously been underestimated. Professional money launderers have established a parallel underground financial system and use any means to infiltrate and undermine European economies and societies.

Legal business structures are used to facilitate virtually all types of criminal activity with an impact on the EU. More than 80 % of the criminal networks active in the EU use legal business structures for their illegal activities.

The use of violence by criminals involved in serious and organised crime in the EU appears to have been increasing in terms of the frequency of use and its severity. The threat from violent incidents has been augmented by the frequent use of firearms or explosives in public.

Criminals are digitally proficient. Virtually all criminal activities now feature some online component, and many crimes have migrated completely online. Criminals exploit encrypted communications to network with each other and use social media and instant messaging services to reach a larger audience to advertise illegal goods or spread disinformation.


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