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Nations accused of ignoring organised crime

Police in London have been on high alert for further terrorist attacks

(Keystone)

Experts gathering in Geneva say governments are not making progress on organised crime because attention is being focused almost exclusively on terrorism.

They claim that some countries involved in the "war on terror" have even found useful partners among organised-crime groups, which is blurring the lines when it comes to law enforcement.

A two-day conference on organised crime, which got underway on Thursday, brings together around 20 experts including representatives from Europol and Italy's parliamentary anti-Mafia commission.

Among the subjects to be discussed are the networks of the 'Ndrangheta or Calabrian Mafia, the impact of organised crime on the business sector, and recent developments in the funding of international terrorism.

"The situation has become very complex and difficult for those leading the struggle against organised crime," Nicolas Giannakopoulos, president of the Geneva-based Organised Crime Observatory, told swissinfo.

"Unfortunately the good progress made during the 1990s has been lost. There is less focus on organised crime in terms of bringing people to justice and more concern about how to use groups to fight terrorism."

Criminal groups

According to Giannakopoulos, the emphasis on combating terrorism post-September 11 has allowed organised-crime groups to multiply and decentralise in a short space of time.

He says traditional outfits like the Italian, Colombian, Mexican, Russian, Chinese and Japanese mafias are still controlling operations. But there are now more and more smaller groups "doing the dirty work", making it difficult for the authorities to identify those pulling the strings.

Furthermore, he says criminal groups from Brazil, Nigeria, Sierre Leone, Congo, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam and India have become more powerful.

"The current approach taken by governments against organised crime is unclear. Sometimes they need [these groups] and sometimes they struggle against them. It's an invitation for all kinds of mismanagement and underhand agreements," he said.

Terrorism financing

A key theme at the conference will be terrorism financing. Mark Chesney, professor of finance at Zurich University's Swiss Banking Institute, says that while there have been significant advances to stem the flow of funds to militant groups, further action is needed to police the financial markets.

Chesney is due to present a paper at the conference detailing what he says were "unusual" trading patterns in the United States stock market on the eve of the September 11 attacks.

The professor intends to use his findings to drive home the point that whereas there have been plenty of new regulations governing the banking sector, there is still a lack of transparency and accountability concerning the financial markets.

In particular, he believes it is time governments acted over the secretive web of offshore trusts, which he says makes it difficult to trace those playing the markets.

"My conclusion is that we should be a lot more careful. When we look at the problem of terrorism financing there are a lot of new rules that go in the right direction, but they mostly concern the banks rather than the financial markets. People also need to think seriously about these offshore trusts."

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

In brief

The second Geneva Forum on Organised Crime runs from September 29-30. Themes include terrorism, the Mafia, drug trafficking, racketeering, and the impact of organised crime on the business sector.

Experts fear that governments have lost their way in the fight against organised crime because of the current emphasis on combating terrorism.

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