Illicit flows and illicit commodities

Illicit flows are commonly understood to involve the trafficking of anĀ illicit commodity, from source to destination, along established routes.

Normally generated by organised crime and enabled by criminal acts, the illicit flow will include the cross border transit of the illicit commodity to the point of utilisation where other illicit flows may then emanate; so as to support, fund or regenerate further organised criminal activity.

Illicit flows normally pertain to commodities that are tangible, and involve either trafficking of illicit goods (for example wildlife threatened by extinction – ivory, pangolin scales, among many others, schedule I drugs or counterfeit goods) or licit goods trafficked illicitly (for example goods whose trade is strictly regulated, such as arms, pre-cursor chemicals, schedule II drugs, instruments that can be used for torture or facilitate the death penalty, or goods trafficked involving VAT fraud). Illicit flows are often underpinned by lesser tangible flows, such as electronic money transfers and dark-web enabled financial transactions and communication. Whilst independent national legislation exists, the umbrella convention covering cross-border organised crime that underpins illicit trafficking is the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC).

In the context of an increasingly globalised world, which facilitates easier movement of persons and substances, organised crime groups have thrived. Against this backdrop, it has become increasingly important to tackle criminal groups by recognising the commonality between the crimes they commit, the routes they utilise and the methodology they employ; they are all interdependent, of equal importance and all enable illicit flows to efficiently exist.

Globalisation presents border authorities with many challenges as they seek to balance national security with an ever increasing pressure to quickly clear goods and merchandise through customs controls. Organised crime groups recognise this and often utilise licit commercial enterprise as a means to conceal their illicit activity, for example by placing drugs in with legitimate fruit cargos or ivory in with authorised wood consignments.


Disrupting illicit flows

To effectively disrupt illicit flows, authorities often rely on risk profiling and the sharing of information and intelligence, so as to maintain an intelligence led approach towards operational border activity. This highlights the necessity to improve networking between the involved law enforcement officers and judicial authorities, to ensure that communication channels are available and that trans-regionally, operational information is shared to enable the effective fight against transnational organized crime.

Approaches of this kind, which recognise the holistic significance of Illicit Flows, as opposed to only concentrating on a single commodity or method, broaden the remit of available resources, allowing greater impact across a wider spectrum of organised criminality.

The Global Illicit Flows Programme works across four continents and incorporates projects that deliver responses to maritime and aviation trafficking, address drug supply, harm and demand reduction, arms trafficking and support trans-regional investigative best practice and post seizure judicial outcomes. The programme therefore complements other EU support working to stem the trafficking in human beings or in wildlife or minerals, and strengthens the European Union response against the multi-commodity illicit flows led by criminal organisations, flows that threaten the national and international economic and social well-being of all citizens.