Economic pressure, war and political realignment are fuelling global organised crime, which preys on people, resources, economies and systems.
In late September we saw the release of the 2023 Global Organized Crime Index 2023 by Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime.
The Index shows a continuing rise since the 2021 Index of people living in conditions of high criminality – now at 83% world-wide. Yet it also shows that more people live in countries that have high resilience to criminality. What does this mean? Countries are putting systems in place to resist organised crime, but their efforts are not keeping pace with the increasing organised crime threat.
As the world becomes more divided along social, economic and political lines, organised crime levels are simultaneously rising. These rifts are partly a function of our increasingly interconnected world, where information and disinformation are widely disseminated and easily promoted. Addressing the rifts that set countries apart would certainly go a long way in improving anti-organised crime responses.
Criminality and Resilience
The Index looks at two main components: criminality and resilience.
Criminality is made up of criminal markets and criminal actors. Criminal markets are systems that enable illicit trade or exploitation. Criminal actors are mafia-style groups, criminal networks, state-embedded actors, foreign actors and private sector actors.
Resilience in the Index looks at the ability of national measures to counter organised crime threats. The measures are many, including political leadership, government transparency and accountability, international cooperation, anti-money laundering, prevention, victim support and policies and laws.
New Zealand remains in the global ‘low criminality-high resilience’ quadrant when looking at vulnerability to organised crime. But our scores have shifted, we now have higher criminality and lower resilience scores than we had in the 2021 index.
Here is the link to the interactive report on New Zealand, that has been driven from the data: https://ocindex.net/country/new_zealand.
Problems that are generating the shift in criminality and reduction in resilience for New Zealand include:
- An increasing synthetic drug market.
- Increasing cybercrime including cyber extortion, with a fragmented and underfunded response.
- Criminal networks focused mainly on cyber-criminality are becoming more active with increasing attacks against essential services, critical infrastructure providers, government entities and large corporations.
- A financial system vulnerable to fraud and tax evasion. The belief that corruption in the country is negligible has made financial crime a low-priority issue. Meanwhile financial crimes like e-commerce imitation scams, pyramid schemes, investment scams and credit card fraud are increasingly reported. The lack of a register for trusts or for ultimate beneficial ownership of companies, obscures the visibility of potential financial crimes.
- New Zealand generally has good systems to tackle financial crimes, but has a shortage of experienced financial crime specialists.
- A rise of extremist groups, promoted by social networks following the Christchurch terror attacks in 2019. The views of these groups are likely to cross into criminal territory and influence criminal activity.
- Criminal networks are actively cooperating with international counterparts in their illicit activities. Being linked to transnational crime groups is pushing local groups to reorganise and professionalise their structures.
- Foreign actors are also an integral part of the criminal markets. Major drug finds in New Zealand have implicated Asian syndicates, Australian motorcycle gangs and Latin American cartels.
- Human trafficking is also linked to foreign actors, as recruitment agencies and unregulated job brokers in the country collaborate with counterparts in South East Asia and India.
- New Zealand's developed economy, high quality of life and economic freedom make the country attractive to criminal networks seeking new markets.
Criminality in New Zealand is also affecting Pacific nations. Australia and New Zealand are among the most lucrative consumer markets in the world for drugs, and this has resulted in Pacific Island countries becoming transit hubs for narcotics originating in South-Eastern Asia and Latin America. Fiji and Tonga have also experienced the recent emergence of illegal drug markets, specifically methamphetamine.
Whilst criminality is generally low across the Pacific Islands there are significant areas of concern.
In Oceania fauna crimes (largely illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing), financial crimes (money laundering) and human trafficking are the three highest scoring criminal markets in the region.
Flora crimes (largely logging and mining) in Melanesia are amongst the highest scoring globally with Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands leading the way.
The presence of vast natural resources in a context of high levels of corruption leaves some Pacific Island countries open to mismanagement of public funds and multi-million-dollar frauds, with revenue from illicit activities often laundered through domestic and Australian property investments.
The data for this Index covers 2022, a year in which major geopolitical and economic divisions were sewn into the world’s social fabric against the backdrop of critical health, security and environmental crises. The analysis shows that, although there have been some steps taken towards improving resilience, the future holds significant challenges related to the wide-ranging impact of organised crime.
Organised crime remains a major risk to human security, development and justice, and serves as a significant obstacle in addressing the challenges we collectively face.
Read the full report: 2023 Global Organized Crime Index 2023