Yesterday, my colleagues and I from Development Services Group had the pleasure of attending GMU TRACCC’s conference: “Research Findings: Illicit Hubs, Tobacco Trade, And Convergence With Illicit Commodities”, where three distinguished experts in European security and illicit trade, Xavier Raufer, Simona Maloria, and Yulia Krylova, moderated by TRACCC’s director Louise Shelley, discussed the findings in their research.
The presentations by each of these experts covered Eastern European tobacco suppliers, Italy’s intersection of illicit tobacco trade and organized crime, and the growing nexus of illicit trade, conflict, and security issues in Algeria and France. What connects all of these issues is the globalization of trade, both illicit and legal. The Balkans route, as mentioned by Xavier, remains one of the primary smuggling routes of not just illicit cigarettes being ferried to Western Europe, but illicit narcotics, weapons, trafficked persons, and money flows of criminal organizations. As well as the Balkans route, there is a transnational pipeline of smuggled goods that stretches from China to the free trade zones in the UAE, making its way to Africa and eventually into Europe.
Illicit markets intersect not only with organized criminal organizations, but with terrorist organizations as well. In our database, we regularly see terrorist organizations intersect with illicit goods such as narcotics, weapons, and trafficked persons. The most prominent of these is the Taliban in Afghanistan smuggling opium and heroin over Afghanistan’s mountainous eastern border with Pakistan, where it is then distributed internationally.
Shockingly, back in 1999, al-Qaeda operatives were caught smuggling cigarettes in the United States, exploiting the highly taxed markets of New York and low sale prices of states such as Virginia and North Carolina. A few years later, Hezbollah was discovered to be doing the exact same thing.
Terrorist organizations and criminal enterprises will constantly evolve in their approaches to funding their movements. This spectacular conference at GMU highlighted these growing and ever-adaptable illicit trade networks.