Organised crime is an issue that looms large for law enforcement agencies worldwide. A broad umbrella term, it refers to any type of criminal activity which is not spontaneous or committed by an individual acting alone.
It typically includes drug manufacture and distribution, serious financial crimes such as targeted scams or robberies, and large-scale violence. Generally, organised crime is considered to be “serious” in nature – that is, the potential ramifications of the crimes are not minor or trivial.
In the Australian Crime Commission’s National Organised Crime Response Plan 2015-2018, it is estimated that the financial cost of organised crime to Australia is at least $15 billion per year.
From a purely financial perspective alone, not even taking into account the human cost of such activity, it is clearly imperative for Australian law enforcement and legislators to focus on tackling organised crime. However, organised crime does not remain static, and the landscape in which law enforcement agencies operate shifts constantly.
So what are the current and likely future top threats posed by organised crime in Australia?
Methylamphetamine “Ice” and similar illegal narcotic drugs
Often referred to as an “epidemic”, it is undeniable that the use of methylamphetamine in various forms including ice has increased in Australia in recent years.
Although this is a drug which had traditionally been manufactured within Australia, the commission notes that the increasing number of seizures at airports and other entry points suggests that external organised crime groups have coordinated to import methylamphetamine into Australia.
Greater numbers of ice and other Class A drug users come at great cost to the Australian health system, and to law enforcement budgets.
Gun-related crime and violence
The Port Arthur massacre in April 1996 led to an immediate tightening of gun laws and the outright banning of semi-automatic weapons in Australia.
As a result, and particularly since this time, Australia has not generally been thought of as a country with a gun problem.
Nonetheless, the commission notes that there is a significant and concerning illegal gun market, involving guns which were not returned during buy-backs, stolen weapons, newly imported firearms and even the sale of some types of guns which have been domestically manufactured.
The presence of an illegal market in dangerous weapons and the ease of guns making their way into the hands of career criminals has the potential to increase gun-related crime and violence.
Increased use of technology and development of crime syndicates
Increased connectivity and a greater reliance on technology both create a ripple effect in the organised crime sector. Technological improvements mean that it is easier for criminals and crime syndicates to correspond with each other in relative anonymity, despite being located interstate or overseas. The increased reliance of most people on the internet in the course of their daily lives has also made it easier than ever for cyber criminals to target unsuspecting victims.
Organised crime groups can target Australians from outside Australia, whether through the use of phishing technology, spam attacks, or, as recently seen in the massive international cyber attack “WannaCry”, the use of ransomware designed to freeze the contents of a system until a ransom is paid.
Increasing use of digital currencies by organised criminals can also facilitate greater ease of money laundering or terrorism financing, again by offering simpler and more anonymous transfers of funds.
The use of hidden “dark web” internet sites and marketplaces can facilitate illegal trades or other criminal activities. An example is the recently dismantled Silk Road, which permitted the online trade of drugs. The dark web is also where the majority of child pornography and illegal sex trade occurs.
Organised crime targeting the Australian financial sector
Perhaps connected to the increased use of technology is a greater incursion by organised criminals into Australia’s financial markets. As identified by the commission, this can include credit card fraud, taxation fraud, or even financial market and superannuation fraud. A particular new focus of organised criminals identified in the plan is the targeting of Australia’s compulsory superannuation network, which is worth approximately $1.62 trillion.
Crime syndicates and organisations have been around and in operation for a long time. The threat of organised crime is accordingly nothing new. However, in the modern world, the types of threats posed to Australia by serious crime organisations are constantly changing, and it is important for Australian law enforcement to always try to stay one step ahead of the game.
Nyman Gibson Miralis provides expert advice and representation in complex cross-border cases involving multiple jurisdictions and investigative agencies.
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