Feature Articles

September 2006
Globalized Transnational Crime

By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus

Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

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"Transnational crime [also called transcrime] will be a defining issue of the 21st century policy makers. Terrorists and transnational crime groups will proliferate because these crime groups are major beneficiaries of globalization. They take advantage of increased travel, trade, rapid money movements, telecommunications and computer links, and are well positioned for growth." (Louise I. Shelley. Director, Transnational Corruption Center, American University)

"The technological revolution of the 20th century that produced the integration of world markets and rapid communications and transportation also made possible the proliferation of transnational crime, a pervasive breed of criminality that transcends national boundaries and permeates the globe." (Donald R. Liddick. The Global Underworld, 2004)

     To be sure, transcrime has existed since commercial activity began to transverse national boundaries, and especially during the 1900s, with the development of rapid communication systems and a dynamic widespread prosperity, giving access to goods theretofore not available to the average wage earner. The affluence of the advanced societies has made possible the acquisition of massive wealth never seen before in human history. Both legitimate and illegitimate sectors of the society have found this economic environment easy to exploit and too tempting not to make a grab for the tantalizing quick buck.

     The collusion between the underworld and societal institutions has produced a culture where normative values are replaced by exploitative values. The criminal mentality of exaggerated egoism and amorality diffuses into the political and economic classes, subverting and corrupting. No longer does the major organized-crime threat derive solely from traditional mafia-like structures, which through intimidation and stealth intrude into segments of the economic polity. The division between the two worlds�the "good guys" and the "bad guys" becomes blurred. As Donald Liddick notes, "The most significant criminals are often political and social elites."

     This overlapping (in some instances, integration) of the "underworld" and the "overworld" has been called the political-criminal nexus, meaning the concentration and fusion of political and criminal culture and power. Modern day mafias "develop collaborative relationships with state authorities to gain access to, and to exploit for their own purposes, the political, economic, and social apparatus of the state." Just as the Sicilian mafia, during its history, sought to penetrate and influence the societal mechanisms on the island for their own advantage, modern criminal elements, which operate in a wider scope, seek out susceptible state authorities, who themselves wish to gain personal benefits, votes for their candidates, wealth, or the neutralization of their adversaries. Each side profits from the nexus. It�s a cozy arrangement�one hand washes the other. The losers are the many. (See Roy Godson. "Political-Criminal Nexus," Trends in Organized Crime 3.1, 1997)

"Il silenzio è il più grande alleato della mafia." "Silence is the greatest ally of organized crime." (Judge Paolo Borsellino, assassinated by the Sicilian Cosa Nostra)

     Transcrime has been defined as criminal activity that extends to various nations and that violates the laws of various nations.

In more detail: transcrime is lawlessness committed in more than one country. Or one that is committed in one country, but in substantial measure was prepared, planned, directed or controlled in another. Or, committed in one country, but by an organization that is criminally active in more than one country. Or is committed in one country and has substantial impact on other states.

     Transcrime does not respect national boundaries. Electronic frauds across national boundaries, for example, create difficulties in the investigations of crimes and the arrest and prosecution of the culprits. Transcrime operates using the same technology that sustains globalization and has opened every society to international trade and commerce. The trafficking in narcotics, workers, children and young women, armaments and massive thefts and piracy�all these illegal and reprehensible activities, have become part and parcel of the global scene. Transcrime is not only big-time criminality in all its dysfunctions, it also poses a grave threat to the stability of the process of globalization and a potential aggravating partner of worldwide terrorism.

     That which differentiates transcrime from national crime resides in the fact that the first violates the laws of many jurisdictions, while the second violates the laws of a single state. The number of legal systems and jurisdictions that must cooperate to suppress the illegal activities complicates law enforcement. There does not yet exist a functional international uniform criminal code. What violates laws in one jurisdiction may not violate the laws of another. The penalties can differ in severity, as well as national norms of control, decency and prevention. Corrupt regimes will use and incorporate the criminal class. Legal norms give way to expediency, rampant fraud, corruption in high places and the amassing of wealth and privilege into the hands of the robber baron elite.

     Thieves follow the money, which makes the massive wealth of the U.S. economy an obvious target for transcriminal incursions. A few examples will suffice. The Italian mafias are engaged in extortion schemes, gambling, counterfeiting, recycling of ill-gotten gains, narcotics trafficking and financial frauds. Florida is one hotbed of these activities.

     The Russians have staked out territory, beginning in the 1970s. The "Mafiya" gangs are a rough, clever bunch with transnational ambitions. The Albanians have been sighted in the northeastern U.S. The Nigerian Criminal Enterprises, a loose collection of con artists, using a variety of tactics, have been relieving gullible Americans of considerable sums. Narcotics from Asia supply markets in North America. Chinese triads from the mainland now break bread with ethnic Chinese criminals in the U.S.

     In turn, homegrown American crime syndicates deliver abroad contraband luxury items and other products eagerly sought in foreign markets. The United States also serves as a transshipment point for illegal goods from one nation to another.

     When the powerful Japanese Yakuza, which generates billions in annual revenue, the emerging African syndicates and the Latin American and Caribbean traffickers are added to the American criminal stew, the native outlaw motorcycle gangs and La Cosa Nostra by comparison are struggling to maintain their former dominance and clout in the underworld.

     In the manifestation of global transcrime in the past few decades, we are witnessing the morphing of the organized crime profile from the cinematic wiseguy gangster stereotype to the business-attired, credentialed, briefcase-carrying amoral opportunist.

     Gone are those good old bad days, where mob bosses were clearly identifiable, that of the slovenly, illiterate, ethnic Mustache Petes, primitive provincials of limited horizons.


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