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Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe


Summary highlights

  1. Decryption of messaging app provides valuable insight into criminal activities in the Western Balkans and beyond.

    The takedown of encrypted messaging app Sky ECC shows how such platforms are attractive for criminals and hard for police to crack. Yet, when decryption is achieved, they can compromise the activities of criminal groups and expose their collaborators. In the Western Balkans, data extracted from Sky ECC led to revelations about the operations of organized criminal groups in the region and their links to state officials.

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  2. Montenegrin sailors are involved in global drug trafficking schemes, damaging the reputation of Montenegro’s rich maritime tradition.

    Situated on the Adriatic Sea, Montenegro has a long maritime history. However, in relation to its 621 000 inhabitants, a disproportionate number of Montenegrin sailors are being arrested for smuggling drugs, including in recent major cocaine busts worldwide. The involvement of Montenegrin sailors in global drug trafficking schemes is harming the reputation of other sailors, the country and its proud maritime tradition.

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  3. Arrests of police officers in Kosovo reveal a culture of bribe taking among border police and a strong internal investigation system in the police inspectorate.

    In the first half of 2022, 5% of Kosovo’s border police force was arrested as a result of anti-corruption operations. There is also an upward trend in complaints made against the Kosovo police over the past two years, including instances of bribery and abuse of official position or authority. Although most of the bribes were petty, more serious collusion with criminal groups has been noted in the past. Despite the police inspectorate’s robust internal investigation system, more focus should be put on prevention, particularly by strengthening integrity among a younger generation of law enforcement personnel.

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  4. Maritime routes become more popular for trafficking through the Balkans.

    COVID-19 and war in Ukraine have disrupted trafficking routes through the Balkans. At the same time, improvements in infrastructure in container terminals and access to them (such as highways and rail links) have made commercial ports in south-eastern Europe more attractive for trade, both licit and illicit. As explored in a new GI-TOC report, these changes seem to have increased trafficking along maritime routes into the Adriatic, the Aegean and Black seas, as well as along the Danube river.

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  5. Slovenia is a crossroads for criminality between the Balkans and central Europe.

    Slovenia is usually off the radar of those analyzing organized crime in central and eastern Europe. However, this article reveals that this small alpine country in the heart of Europe is an attractive location for criminals from the Balkans to hide out, plan operations and logistics, do business and trans-ship their illicit goods.

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  6. Low police salaries in the Western Balkans risk increasing corruption among police forces.

    The public expects a lot of the police: that they respond quickly to emergencies; that they put their lives on the line to protect their communities and enforce the law; and that they carry out their difficult and dangerous work with professionalism and integrity. But while expectations are high, the salaries of rank-and-file police in the Western Balkans are relatively low. This gap increases certain risks, including that of corruption. We look at the issue, its impact and what can be done to address it.

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  7. Football hooliganism in the Western Balkans reveals links between hooliganism, politics, violence and crime, although these vary across the region.

    Some football teams in the Western Balkans – both at the club and national levels – have a notorious reputation for violence. But how serious is the problem, and what are the links between football hooliganism, politics and organized crime? The answers are examined in a recent GI-TOC report entitled ‘Dangerous games’, which analyzes 122 fan groups of football teams in the six countries of the region. This article offers highlights derived from this research.

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About this issue

In the 13th issue of the Risk Bulletin produced by the Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), we profile two of our recent reports: ‘Portholes: Exploring the maritime Balkan routes’ and ‘Dangerous games: Football hooliganism, politics and organized crime in the Western Balkans’. Furthermore, additional information has been produced to accompany these reports, including visualization material and, in the case of ‘Portholes’, a short documentary film. These reports and the accompanying material can be accessed on the GI-TOC’s website.

We are interested in the impact of technology on organized crime and law enforcement. In this issue, we examine the recent takedown of the Sky app and what it reveals about the chats of criminal groups from the Western Balkans. This is a topic that we will continue to follow closely.

We have noticed in our work that sailors from Montenegro are often arrested for drug trafficking. We were therefore pleased to work with Mićan Andrijašević of the civil society organization Juventas in Montenegro to look into the problem and see what could be done to reduce the vulnerability of Montenegrin sailors to becoming involved in drug trafficking.

Since our report on global hotspots of Balkan organized crime, ‘Transnational tentacles’, published in 2020, we have continued to look for examples of criminal groups from the Western Balkans operating abroad. In this issue, we look at the activities of organized criminal groups from the Western Balkans that are active in Slovenia.

A recurrent problem that we have noticed in our work in south-eastern Europe is that police can be facilitators or collaborators of organized crime, for example by taking bribes to enable trafficking. Recent cases involving Kosovo border police highlight the problem, as featured in this issue.

It has been suggested that one reason – though not an excuse – for corruption within the police is low salaries. We therefore decided to explore the matter and collect relevant data, although this was not an easy task. An article in this issue explores police salaries and vulnerabilities created by a gap between the cost of living and expectations of the police.

We have made a change in the style of the Risk Bulletin to make it easier to access individual articles. We hope that this will enable readers to focus on and share stories that are of particular interest to them. Please note that we are also taking steps to provide back issues of the Risk Bulletin in local languages.

If you have a proposal for a story or would like to provide feedback, please contact almedina.dodic@globalinitiative.net.