The world financial crisis offers organized crime a unique opportunity to return to the global banking systems
from which it had been barred by sanctions imposed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the U.N.’s top anti-crime official said Wednesday.
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said that until the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, the banking system “has been very active and clean,” forcing organized crime to return to cash transactions.
“That was basically the situation until the financial crisis, which started as a liquidity problem, an unwillingness of banks to (engage in) inter-banking transactions,” Costa said. “So you have on the one hand a supply, resources, cash from organized crime and you have banks very (that are) illiquid and striving for cash. Well, that is really license for organized crime to penetrate into the financial system.”
Costa made his remarks at the launch of the U.N.’s West Africa Coast Initiative, a multi-agency program to fight organized crime across the war-torn region, which has in recent years become a major transit hub for cocaine traveling from South America headed for Europe.He said that while the problem of banks being penetrated by organized crime was not really a problem in impoverished West Africa, it was a growing in South America and Europe, contributing to the rise of organized crime in the region.Costa said the groups also are involved in smuggling counterfeit medications, stolen oil as well as toxic waste for dumping in West Africa to avoid strict environmental regulations elsewhere.”Europe is not only the destination of drugs, Europe seems to be the origin of a number of problems facing West Africa through organized crime. Namely the export of toxic waste, as well as the illicit export of so-called E-waste, or electronic waste,” such as circuit boards, old computers and monitors, Costa said, adding that Europe creates about 8.7 million tons each a large part of which is dumped in West Africa to avoid stricter environmental regulations elsewhere.A report by Costa’s agency painted a devastating picture of organized crime in West Africa, where profits from cocaine and stolen oil rival total billions of dollars and rival the gross national products of countries like Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast.The anti-crime initiative counts on the support from various U.N. agencies including the Department of Peacekeeping and Interpol and will operate in the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Liberia.