Internet crime and Mafia pose growing threat

Women trafficked from eastern Europe often wind up working as prostitutes at brothels like this one in Zurich Keystone

The Federal Police says in its latest report on crime that serious criminal activities such as human trafficking and money laundering have become a global threat.

This content was published on June 23, 2011 minutes

The 2010 report released on Thursday also found that combatting cybercrime had become one of the biggest challenges facing the Swiss authorities.

“With increasing frequency transnational crime is planned and prepared over the internet. The offenders are becoming faster and are more difficult to identify,” the police report states.

The internet enables criminal organisations to work with hackers and authors of viruses regardless of their physical location. And the information spread through the internet is often encrypted, making it difficult for the authorities to uncover the perpetrators.

The federal police are calling for co-ordinated and concerted efforts nationwide and at the international level to fight cybercrime. The report stated that parliament had approved the hiring of additional cybercrime analysts.

The seriousness of the threat of cyber attacks has also led the government to commission a strategy paper which is to be presented at the end of the year.

Lack of coordination

“One of our weaknesses is a lack of coordination between the different people involved. This is why we need a national strategy,” Kurt Nydegger and Gérald Vernez told in January.

Nydegger and Vernez – defence ministry experts – have been assigned the task of producing the paper on cybercrime. “We have no crisis management structure or team to deal with this threat or any instrument allowing the Swiss authorities to undertake coordinated and effective measures.”

Inroads into Switzerland by the Italian Mafia, particularly the `Ndrangheta, were also highlighted in the Federal Police report.

“Switzerland is being used first and foremost as a logistics hub and country of transit,” the police said, confirming that Mafia organisations remained very active in Switzerland as well as in areas just across the border in Italy and Germany.

Federal Police director, Jean-Luc Vez, told a news conference following the publication of the report that it was time to review the police cooperation agreement signed ten years ago with Italy. The goal, Vez said, is to improve coordination between the police of both countries.

Growing pressure from the Italian authorities on the `Ndrangheta has led the organisation to shift some of its activities into Switzerland including money laundering. However, it’s believed tightened laws have made it very difficult for criminal organisations to launder money through Swiss banks.

`Ndrangheta tourism

Over the past few years, the `Ndrangheta have filtered large sums by investing in catering, property and art, according to Stéphanie Oesch, author of a book published last year on the impact of organised crime on the Swiss financial centre.

The amount laundered has been estimated to be between SFr20 and SFr30 billion ($24-$36 billion).

“In canton Valais criminal organisations seek to launder money by investing mainly in property and the restaurant and hotel sector. The Mafia is particularly interested in large property and tourist projects,” Oesch told in an interview following the publication of her book.

After reviewing the latest Federal Police report, she confirmed that her findings were still valid.

Human trafficking

The report also said human trafficking from eastern Europe increased in 2010. The police said a measure tabled at the federal level to provide better protection for witnesses could play a “decisive role” in combatting this.

The measure put forward by cabinet foresees granting witnesses protection not only during a trial but also after. This would put Switzerland in line with a Council of Europe Convention on human trafficking.

The proposal won approval in the Senate last week, and must now be accepted by the second chamber, the House of Representatives, before becoming law in 2013.

The report concludes that serious criminal activity can only be fought successfully through coordinated efforts at both the national and international levels, and that bilateral and multilateral accords provide a solid basis for the prosecution of those responsible for transnational crime.

Cybercrime fighters

The government has a special unit within the Federal Police Office to coordinate the fight against cybercrime.

In response to a government decision in 2003, the finance ministry, alongside the Federal Police Office and the Swiss Education and Research Network, launched a reporting and analysis centre for information security.

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Up until 1975 the ‘Ndrangheta mainly was involved in extortion and blackmailing. In the 1990s it became involved in the drug trade.

Experts estimate the `Ndrangheta’s annual turnover to be around €44 billion. The organisation has the monopoly on cocaine trafficking in Europe, and has partnered with major drug lords in Latin America.

Cocaine use has increased exponentially in Switzerland over the past few years.

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Witness protection legislation

In mid-June, the Senate approved a federal witness protection law as part of the European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.
The new law is necessary for Switzerland to be able to ratify the convention, which it signed in 2008. If the House of Representatives also agrees to the new law, it will come into force on January 1 2013.
Until then, the individual cantons will be responsible for witness protection measures.

If and when the federal law comes into effect, it will allow the authorities to change the identity of witnesses whose testimony could place them in danger. They could also be relocated to another country.

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