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Identifying, Counting and Categorizing Transnational Criminal Organizations

NCJ Number
Transnational Organized Crime Volume: 5 Issue: 1 Dated: Spring 1999 Pages: 1-18
Louise Shelley
Date Published
18 pages
This article identifies major transnational organized crime groups by source country and categorizes such groups by their relationship to the legitimate economy; structure; product; political and terrorist links; and assets, revenues, and the cost of their crime.
There is no region of the world without criminal organizations operating on its territory; however, the most important source countries for major organized crime groups are Italy, Colombia, the Soviet successor States, Mexico, China, Japan, and Nigeria. All of these organized crime groups are transnational in different ways. Transnational organized crime groups lie along a continuum in terms of their integration with the legitimate economy, ranging from Colombian crime groups which have focused on making money from illegal products (drugs) to Russian organized crime groups, which profit mostly from manipulating and exploiting the legitimate economic sphere. Although the structures of organized criminal groups vary, they are all highly authoritarian bodies. Organized crime groups can also be distinguished by the products or services from which they derive most of their profit. Some focus on one main product or service, and others diversify their products or services. The size of the membership of a criminal organization is difficult to determine, and estimates are even more elusive because of the difficulty of distinguishing members from supporters. In the next few decades, transnational organized crime groups will be much more important determinants of international politics and state capacity than they are currently. This will occur because the financial resources of the crime groups are increasing, along with their political power. Countries with the following characteristics will be the least vulnerable to the rising economic and political power of organized crime: a large legitimate economy where domestic or foreign organized crime is a small segment; measures and values that prevent large-scale corruption that supports and profits from organized crime; a developed civil society; prominence of the rule of law; social mobility for minority and ethnic group members; and barriers to prevent organized crime groups from becoming major actors in the legitimate economy. 32 notes