International Organised Crime in the Czech Republic.
A short article I wrote at the close of 2008 about organised crime in the Czech Republic has just been published in Jane’s Intelligence Digest (‘Foreign crime infiltrates Czech Republic’, 06/02/2009 http://jid.janes.com/public/jid/index.shtml).
While I obviously can’t reproduce the full article here, I will provide a quick general overview of this topic, highlighting some of the key points:
- Concerns were raised about continued high-levels of non-indigenous organised crime in the Czech Republic last year. A report published by UOOZ (the Czech unit for combating organised crime) in July 2008 claimed that organised crime was dominated by groups originating from the former Soviet Union, Italy, the Balkans and a range of Asian and Middle Eastern networks, who were engaged in a variety of criminal activities on an incresingly large scale. The 2008 annual report by BIS (the Czech civillian counter intelligence unit) also expressed concern about foreign crime groups infiltrating both legal and illegal spheres of the Czech economy and establishing ties with lawyers, financiers, members of the state administration, police and the judiciary.
- Concern over penetration by foreign criminal groups is not a recent development however. The earliest post-communist Czech intelligence and law enforcement reports, written in the early 1990s, strongly stressed the presence of high levels of non-indigenous organised crime within the country. In 1992 a report compiled by the Czech Ministry of Interior claimed that less than 20% of organised crime was committed by domestic criminals, and by the mid-1990s law enforcement reports estimated that around 50% of criminal organisations active in Czech Republic originated from elsewhere, with another 25% comprised of a mixture of foreign and domestic criminals.
- Similar claims presenting organised crime primarily as a ‘foreign import’ are found in all of the East European countries in the early post-communist period. To a certain extent the level of influence of non-indigenous organised crime was exaggerated to downplay the development of domestic organised crime. However, the Czech Republic is an attractive prospect for many criminal gangs from outside its borders. It’s geographical location is perfect for incorporation into European smuggling routes, initially bordering EU countries and (from May 2004) becoming a full EU member themselves, while the post-communist economic boom of the late 1990s created favourable conditions for investment and money laundering.
- Criminal groups from the former Soviet Union quickly moved in to establish a strong presence in the Czech Republic in the 1990s, with groups linked to the Moscow-based Solntsevo organisation, St-Petersburg based Tambovskaya group and several organisations from Ukraine, Chechnya, Dagestan and Armenia known to be active on Czech territory. Russian-speaking crime groups have invested heavily in businesses and real estate in areas including Prague, Brno and Karlovy Vary. Recent reports suggest that criminal groups from the former Soviet Union retain a position of dominance amongst non-indigenous gangs operating in the Czech Republic today, followed by groups from the Balkans and Italy.
- The strong international influence on organised crime means that criminal networks in the Czech Republic today engage in a variety of activities on a transnational scale, including illegal immigration, people trafficking, arms trading and commodity smuggling activities. The country remains a favoured route for drug smuggling, particularly heroin from Asia and increasingly, cocaine from North Africa. Despite some growth in the domestic drug market in recent years, Interpol still estimate that around 70% of drugs smuggled into the Czech Republic are destined for further transport and sale in other EU countries. Many gangs have also moved into drug production, with a number of professionally equipped amphetamine manufacturing laboratories uncovered in recent years.
- While the continued presence of foreign criminals is clear, the Czech underworld is not entirely dominated by outsiders. A number of ‘home-grown’ criminal gangs have faced trial in recent years, most famously the Berdych gang trial, which led to 19 gang members (all of whom were Czechs, including three former UOOZ members) being sentenced on a range of criminal charges in January 2006. Recent evidence indicates that domestic criminal groups are now taking greater responsibility for organising and conducting operations on Czech territory, while analysts admit that increased international collaboration means it is becoming more difficult to classify groups as ‘Czech’ or ‘foreign’.
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