The Spread of Organized Crime in Europe: Challenges Beyond Border

Jeppe Gustafsson /

by Cecilia Maria Emilia Di Domenico

Assuming that the Mafia is exclusively an Italian problem is a major misconception. Globalization has not only facilitated the exchange of goods, economies, and ideas but has also enabled criminal organizations like the Mafia and ‘Ndrangheta to proliferate worldwide. This process has been gradual, discreet, and largely unnoticed, but time has unveiled a harsh reality: organized crime now thrives throughout Europe, often necessitating collaboration with these criminal groups, even involving European Union politics and leaders. While such instances can be observed in countries like France, the United Kingdom, and Romania, this article will focus on Germany, Spain, Finland, and the most recent scandal in Qatar.

Today’s world risks being conquered by the mafia through the seduction of capital,” said Roberto Scapriato, the chief prosecutor of Palermo, describing a situation that could engulf the entire world. It’s necessary to underline that organized crime no longer aims for power but solely for money. For this reason, it chooses to enter and take root in two kinds of countries: those with strong economies and institutions and those where it is easier to operate without interference.

We can understand this by examining how criminal groups colonize a territory. There is no evidence of crimes or homicide rates to draw attention, but there is a significant indication of increased employment in the construction sector, which is the sector most sought after by criminal organizations. (One extra relocated mafioso per 100,000 inhabitants corresponds to an increase of about 3% in construction sector employment.)

Case of Germany…

“In Germany, approximately 500 mobsters, including members of ‘Ndrangheta, Camorra, and Stiddari, reside in the country. However, the Bundeskriminalamt believes that this number could actually be doubled. Their primary presence in the region involves controlling restaurants, real estate investments, and more, with the main objective of laundering money.

What’s noteworthy is that despite the growing persistence of the Mafia, investigations into the German Mafia are rapidly declining. For instance, it is not unusual for someone to purchase a building or an industry with banknotes without being investigated. This is possible because the Mafia is not considered illegal in Germany, and, for the same reason, there are no issues with their methods of acquiring these properties. In 2009, there was even a public baptism of Mafia clans in the middle of a street in Singen, and no intervention occurred. Today, the Mafia significantly contributes to the country’s economic growth.”

Case of Spain…

Barcelona, Costa Brava, Costa del Sol, Ibiza, Tenerife, Madrid, are just some of the cities in Spain where organized crime is active. Unlike in Germany, the word “mafia” is not an existing term used to describe organized crime in Spain, which means there are no specific rules or regulations that control these criminal organizations, and they are treated like normal criminals.

One way that different kinds of mafia groups infiltrated Spain is through drug trafficking. To understand the current situation in Spain, we need to go back in time and highlight some important points. Mafia groups used cash to make exchanges, and the easiest way to traffic money is by using five-hundred-euro bills. These bills allow for a reduced space in moving money from one place to another. For instance, 1 million euros in 500€ banknotes weigh only 1.5 kg, while with banknotes of 100€, the weight is around 10 kg. In 2010, the United States estimated that 90% of organized crime was financed through drug trafficking. For this reason, on January 27, 2019, the emission of this kind of banknotes was interrupted.

Spain has the highest circulation of €500 notes in the eurozone. In 2002, the quantity was around 13 million €500 bills, and today the situation is still quite similar, with Spain maintaining the highest percentage of these bills. “All the mafias choose Spain for two reasons: firstly, because it’s where drugs arrive from Latin America. And secondly, because it’s where revenues from trafficking those same drugs, put on the world’s markets, are invested. And it was by following the traces of drugs that Italian investigators discovered how Spain has become the “engine” for handling and dealing drugs on the old continent. A focal point so active as to have a direct impact on the power of the clans.” These are some words spoken by Rosa Alvarez, a magistrate of Fiscal in Il Fatto Quotidiano. In Italy, the mafia sells drugs coming from Spain, and in Spain, they recycle the money coming from Italy.

Case of Finland…

In Finland, organized crime encompasses various sectors, including narcotics, construction, cleaning, restaurant industries, and, in recent years, societal structures and decision-making systems. Criminal organizations have begun using charitable or recreational activities as cover for their operations and to exert influence on society. Similar to the previous examples, there is no specific ‘mafia’ group as seen in Italy. However, there are groups of individuals who control commerce. Laborers from North Africa and South America, as well as some young Finns, are employed for trafficking purposes. What’s particularly noteworthy is the lack of public discussion about these organizations, the absence of reports, and the government’s limited direct intervention.

Qatar… Will it be the last case?

The case of Qatar represents the most recent scandal involving the European Union. In simple terms, it involved a monetary exchange aimed at defending Qatar’s interests within the European Parliament. This situation caused an uproar, but there are numerous instances where criminal organizations collaborate with governments. The key distinction lies in the fact that most people remain unaware of these collaborations. At times, it is deemed more prudent to conceal the true situation to prevent a loss of trust in the government among the populace. On other occasions, it is wiser to remain silent about the ‘underlying issues’ to avoid exacerbating a challenging situation. It’s challenging to envision the cessation of such scenarios, as they have become an integral part of our world. Despite governmental efforts to dismantle segments of criminal organizations, they are unlikely to vanish entirely, and we may witness yet another significant revelation emerging from Europe.