Crime has been sprinting across national borders faster than
law-enforcement officials can keep up with it.
Organized-crime groups that used to operate nationally are
forging new global ties. Many groups, United Nations experts say,
are moving beyond traditional drug- and arms-smuggling and
prostitution into new areas, such as trade in nuclear technology,
transport of illegal aliens, and money-laundering.
The UN says major syndicates, which now control most illegal
international trade, do $750 billion worth of business a year.
These groups are the focus of a UN conference in Cairo this week.
As Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali notes, "Some criminal
'empires' are richer than many poorer states." Or, as the World
Bank reports, they are worth far more than the gross domestic
products of the Middle Eastern and North African nations combined.
The new global criminals have been quick to take advantage of
major changes in the last five or six years, including the move
toward freer trade, the breakup of the former Soviet Union, and the
introduction of technology that allows money to cross borders at
the touch of a computer key.
Nations trying to liberalize their economies, such as Mexico and
Russia, have been particularly vulnerable. The US Treasury
estimates, for example, that more than one-fourth of the funds used
to buy recently privatized Mexican banks had illicit origins. And
laundered monies are suspected as a key factor in the trade
imbalance that spurred December's peso devaluation.
In Cairo, some 1,300 government officials, law-enforcement
professionals, and academic crime experts are trying to come up
with more effective ways to fight the spread of transnational
crime. They are sharing their failures, successes, and aims at the
ten-day United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the
Treatment of Offenders, which ends May 8. The Congress has met
every five years since 1955.
Everyone agrees that more must be done. "The problem starts when
you move into the nitty gritty of how to do it," says Eduardo
Vetere, chief of the UN's small Vienna-based Crime Prevention and
Criminal Justice branch. Issues of sovereignty and national pride,
he says, have kept progress slow.
In his view, new approaches are crucial. "If we continue using
concepts and methods that are centuries old, the organized-crime
groups are always going to be ahead of us," he says.
The world community is just starting to respond to the new
"springtime" of global crime, says Emilio Viano, professor of
criminal law at American University in Washington. "We didn't
realize the extent of it. We're just beginning to look beyond
*European leaders are expected to give final approval in June to
Europol, a new cooperative European police agency. It will have
wider powers than Interpol, mainly a data-sharing network.
*Italy, host of two special UN conferences last year on
money-laundering and organized crime, has offered to finance a task
force to look into setting up a special training center for
law-enforcement and criminal-justice personnel to fight
*The US, which has posted Drug Enforcement Administration agents
in its overseas embassies for years, has recently added FBI agents
to 26 missions. The FBI currently is setting up a training academy
in Budapest to educate middle managers of police agencies in
Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics. FBI
director Louis Freeh told Congress recently that a network of
police partners must be developed and that more global cooperation
is vital in the war against drug traffickers.
"These criminal groups that are forging new coalitions sometimes
send money through as many as seven or eight countries, so we all
have to pull together as a team," agrees Gregory Passic, a
money-laundering expert with the DEA in New York. …