What is Serious Organised Crime?

Providing a definition on Serious Organised Crime is not an easy job as it is a complex phenomenon which has been explored by several disciplines like sociology, law, criminology, anthropology and psychology, among others. Therefore, we can probably find as many definitions as scholars interested in the topic.

One of the key documents to shine some light on the topic is the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, which entered into force on the 29th of September of 2003. Although it does not provide a definition of Serious and Organised Crime as such, it states the key elements of an Organised Criminal Group. According to article 2.a. โ€œOrganized criminal groupโ€ shall mean a structured group of three or more persons, existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.

Therefore, in this definition we can find four criteria to establish what an organised criminal group is.

  1. First of all, it is a structured group of three or more persons. According to some authors, we must keep in mind that it is not the number of people what makes the concept of organised crime, but the organization and the internal and external coordination between them when they act.
  2. Second, the group must exist for a period of time. Therefore, and according to article 2.c. of the same convention, this shall mean a group that is not randomly formed for the immediate commission of an offence and that does not need to have formally defined roles for its members, continuity of its membership or a developed structure.
  3. Third, the group must have the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences. According to article 2.b. a serious crime shall mean a conduct constituting an offence punishable by a maximum deprivation of liberty of at least four years or a more serious penalty.
  4. And fourth, they must have the aim to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit. They can do it through a wide range of typology of crimes. More than one third of the groups are involved in drug production, trafficking and distribution, but there are other types of illicit activities in which they might be involved, such as: fraud, migrant smuggling, organised property crime, trafficking of endangered species or firearms and human beings, among others.

According to the last release of the Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) from EUROPOL, the dimension of organised crime is quite large in Europe. For example:

  • During 2017 there were over 5,000 international organised crime groups under investigation in Europe.
  • These groups were formed by criminals of more than 180 nationalities.
  • 60% of the suspects operating in the EU were EU nationals.
  • Most groups were organised hierarchically and a 76% of them had six or more members.
  • 45% of the groups were involved in more than one criminal activity (poly-criminality of the groups). This fact also increases the probability to act in more than one country in order to mitigate risks, reduce operational costs and increase profit margins. Actually, 70% of the groups were active in more than three countries.

Link to the last release of SOCTA: https://www.europol.europa.eu/socta-report

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