Elliott Ness is getting a makeover.
More than 150 governments gathered in this traditional stronghold
of the Sicilian Mafia yesterday, to sign a treaty bringing
international law enforcement into the high-tech, high speed,
globalized new century.
The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized
Crime - the first such international treaty - is a bid to help
national police forces work as smoothly and efficiently together as
do their targets. It will bolster existing international crime
busters - like Interpol and the FBI - by enacting laws that support
their efforts. Outlawing bank secrecy, keeping prosecutors
worldwide in e-mail contact, and setting up international witness
protection programs are among the treaty's goals.
Harmonizing laws and ways of implementing them, the convention
"means we will go from the speed of an automobile to the speed of
an aircraft" in mob-busting operations, says Pino Arlacchi, head of
the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention. "This is a
state-of-the-art instrument in the fight against organized crime."
Open borders and modern communications technologies have done
more than ease legal travel and trade. They have also enabled
criminals to set up networks that span the globe.
Where once mobsters moved bootleg liquor from Canada into the
United States, today Chinese "snakehead" gangs can smuggle illegal
immigrants from Shanghai to Western Europe and America, and
Colombian cocaine producers are hooked into planetwide distribution
The new convention makes law enforcement equally global. For the
first time, boasts Professor Arlacchi, "We have a universal
standard to fight the Mafia."
Organized criminal gangs "have wasted no time" in adapting new
technologies to their ends, said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan,
who opened the four-day conference. "But our efforts to combat them
have remained until now very fragmented and our weapons almost
obsolete." The convention, he added, would encourage people to
recognize that mafias "are not invincible" - a lesson that Palermo
has taught in a fierce and unexpectedly successful battle against
the "Cosa Nostra" in recent years.
The treaty sets out an agreed definition of just what serious
organized crime is. In the past, lack of such a definition has
proved an often insuperable obstacle to investigators from
different countries trying to help each other. When national
parliaments have amended their laws to match the treaty,
cooperation will be easier and quicker, UN officials say.
Prosecutors are often stymied as they follow international trails
of suspects, when they find that what is a crime in their country
is not illegal where their quarry is living. Italian police, for
example, know that hundreds of Italian mafiosi are living
peacefully in Caribbean islands where membership in a criminal
organization is not illegal. …