Saturday, May 25, 2024


Global Initiative’s report “Transnational Tentacles – Global Hotspots of Balkan Organized Crime” authored by Walter Kemp shows that criminal groups from the Western Balkans are increasingly operating abroad, and are modern, dynamic and entrepreneurial, able to operate discreetly and efficiently in the global hotspots.


The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) has issued a report entitled Transnational Tentacles which reveals global hotspots of organized crime involving groups from the Western Balkans.

While the Western Balkans is often portrayed as a hotspot of illicit activity, the region is a relatively small market for organized crime.  The big money is made elsewhere. This report shows why and how groups from the Western Balkans have become engaged in organized crime abroad, particularly in South Africa, Turkey, Australia as well as in some countries of Latin America and Western Europe.

In most hotspots, criminal groups from the Western Balkans have moved up the value chain in the past 20 years. Men from small towns in the Western Balkans are now organizing multi-tonne shipments of cocaine from the jungles of Latin America through some of Europe’s busiest ports to the streets of its capitals. Sailors from small Balkan ports are using yachts to ship drugs to South Africa and Australia, or migrants from Turkey to Western Europe.

Cocaine is one of the most lucrative commodities for criminals from the Western Balkans. The report shows how groups from the region are engaged in the financing, transportation and distribution of large amounts of cocaine shipped from South America to Europe. Good contacts to local criminal groups and access to cocaine at source, combined with their presence in major European port cities, means that criminal groups from the Western Balkans are able to control the end-to-end supply of cocaine. This allows them to drive down prices, pass the savings on to consumers, deliver good quality at a fair price, and thereby knock out the competition. Thanks to this business model, some criminal groups from the Western Balkans are now in the premier league of crime.

The report shows that criminal groups from the Western Balkans operating abroad are modern, dynamic and entrepreneurial. They have demonstrated an ability to adapt and innovate and use technology to their advantage: for example, using encrypted forms of communication; exploring new routes and means of trafficking, such as ‘narco-jets’; and laundering their money through cryptocurrencies, offshore havens and into their home countries.

Most criminal groups from the Western Balkans tend to operate discreetly and efficiently in the global hotspots, despite their reputation for violence. Most of the violence among the groups seems to be related to the settling of scores either within their own ranks or with rivals.

The report suggests that there is not a ‘Balkan Cartel’ per se, although groups from the region sometimes work with each other, and there are also instances of multi-ethnic groups.

While the problem of organized crime in the Western Balkans has largely moved abroad, the activities of these criminal groups are hurting the reputation of the countries where they are from, not least in the process of EU accession. The report also points out that some of the underlying conditions of vulnerability that caused people to leave the Western Balkans in the past still exist, namely unemployment, corruption, a lack of opportunities, frustration with their governments and a slow process of EU accession. The report warns that ‘if these issues are not addressed, there will continue to be a pool of young people in the Western Balkans or the diaspora willing to risk a life of crime’.

The report calls for more effective law enforcement cooperation, tracking and seizing of assets, and the sharing of information, not least since perpetrators tend to use multiple identities. It also stresses the need to reduce demand for the goods and services provided by criminal groups from the Western Balkans. As the report says, ‘while some critics and sections of the media may sound the alarm about criminal groups from the Western Balkans, few point out that they are the delivery service for Western Europe’s illicit markets.’ 

Transnational Tentacles: Global Hotspots of Balkan Organized Crime is an output of the GI-TOC’s Civil Society Observatory to Counter Organized Crime in South Eastern Europe. It is based on data, information and analyses collected and shared by civil-society actors across the Western Balkans, as well as by experts (particularly investigative reporters) in the countries where criminal groups from the Western Balkans are active.

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime is a network of professionals working on the frontlines of the fight against the illicit economy and criminal actors. Through a network of global civil society observatories on the illicit economy, we monitor evolving trends and work to build the evidence basis for policy action, disseminate the expertise of our Network and catalyze multisectoral and holistic responses across a range of crime types. With the Global Initiative’s Resilience Fund, we support community activists and local NGOs working in areas where crime governance is critically undermining people’s safety, security and life chances.

For a copy of the report, click here.



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