There are 821 'most threatening' gangs, including from Baltics, active in Europe - Europol

  • 2024-04-05
  • LETA/AFP/TBT Staff

THE HAGUE, April 5 (LETA--AFP) - The European Union's (EU) law enforcement agency Europol published a report on Friday listing several Baltic groups among the 821 criminal  gangs "most threatening" to the continent.

The Hague-based law agency released a new report which for the first time "analyses in depth" the characteristics of Europe's most nefarious underground groups and how they operate.

A key aspect was "criminal networks' strategy to infiltrate the legal business world -- as a facilitator to commit crimes, as a front to disguise crimes and as a vehicle to launder criminal profits," the 51-page Europol report said.

Currently some 86 percent of Europe's most threatening criminal groups used "legal business structures" with construction and property, hospitality, and logistics the most vulnerable sectors targeted.

Criminal gangs favored real estate as a way to launder criminal proceeds, Europol said, using lawyers or financial experts "who are sometimes unaware of the criminal origins of the assets."

Nightclubs are often used for drug trafficking, extortion and racketeering and migrant and gun smuggling, the agency added.

In logistics, especially in Europe's large ports, private sector workers "are regularly targeted" for corruption as they can "facilitate unrestricted access to ports and port systems" including data.

The majority of Europe's most dangerous gangs focused on drug smuggling -- cocaine, cannabis, heroin and synthetic drugs -- and operations were most often located in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain.

The report paid special attention to Dubai, which it said "has emerged as a remote coordinations hub, where high-level members and other criminal actors, such as brokers and organizers reside to coordinate the activities of criminal networks and hinder law enforcement detection."

"However, when looking at the geographical location of leaders of high-risk criminal networks, Dubai does not appear to stand out as a secluded safe haven for leaders," Europol said.

For example, Eastern European networks that include criminals from the Baltic states often have strong links with each other and with Russian citizens. Any of these nationalities can take the lead in these networks. The networks are mainly active in drug trafficking (cocaine, marijuana and synthetic drugs), money laundering, tobacco smuggling and trafficking for labor exploitation. Their main countries of operation are Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Russia and the UK.

But Europol warned that many of the most threatening crime networks have been around for years, with a third operating for over a decade -- some even able to continue operations from jail.

"This means that law enforcement attention should remain focused on long-standing known criminal networks, even if they are under law enforcement scrutiny and even if action has already been taken against them," Europol said.