I regularly end up giving money to the non-European immigrants who offer to wash the windscreen of my car when it is stationary at traffic lights in Bologna…at least half the coins I give them end up in the pockets of the organised criminals who control the racket of ‘illegal windscreen washers’. These same criminals also run a large part of the distribution of illegal drugs, again making use of the forced labour of illegal immigrants. But in order to be economically viable as players in the drugs market, such criminals need to have large supplies of capital at their disposal. Such funds will be provided from the world of illegal economic activities by those specialised in running prostitution rings or in the hijacking of lorry loads or in bank robbery. In turn, criminals specialising in bank robbery will need access to costly technology such as thermic lances and sophisticated weaponry. These can be bought or hired only from those who in practice have a monopoly over the supply of these materials and these same criminals are frequently those engaged in international drugs and arms trading. The enormous profits that are made in this trade are regularly recycled in the banking system and the money, finally ‘laundered’ clean, is then invested in absolutely legal activities. It is in this way that, link after link, the great ‘net of the illegal economy’ is stitched together and its complicated pattern interwoven with that of the legal economy.
Increasing globalization and the collapse of Eastern European communism have had a profound impact on the political economy of organized crime, while the internationalization of organized criminals such as the Mafia (Sicilian and Russian varieties), 1 Camorra, Triads and Yakuza has been of great significance in the development of transnational crime. Russian organized criminals are heavily involved not only in arms trafficking in Russia itself but also in arming combatants in former Soviet territories such as Chechnya, Armenia and Azerbaijan, as are Latin American drug traffickers. The Sicilian Mafia is entrenched not only throughout Western and Eastern Europe and the United States but in much of Latin America and Canada. There members engage in criminal activities such as smuggling,