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UN Warns About Spreading Crime

Vienna, May 20 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations has released its first ever report on organized international crime. The report emphasizes the growing sophistication and reach of international criminal gangs.

Next week (Tuesday May 21), the UN is to hold a conference in Vienna to discuss what should be done about the problem.

The report says gangs, especially from South America, Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, are cooperating and exploiting the opening up of borders and relaxation of trading practices.

The report says, for example, that gangs from Colombia have teamed up with criminals in Albania. And that while groups in Poland and Romania remain internationally active, even more prominent are the Solntsevskaia, Dolgoproudnenskaia, Georgian and Chechen groups. All of them are involved in large-scale crime and in money laundering.

Many international gangs are said now using the Information Super Highway or Internet to avoid detection.

The UN report says that to combat the growing threat, better co-ordination is needed between member states and that information on criminal activity should be more readily shared.

It blames lax banking systems, which facilitate money laundering, as a major block to tackle the fight against international crime.

By targeting the financial assets of the gangs, the report says, governments can halt their spread.

Another solution put forward in the report is greater electronic surveillance.

The report praises the US for having made great inroads against the Mafia by phone tapping. But it admits that such an approach is unlikely in poorer countries, such as the former Soviet states, where there's a lack of cash for anti-crime measures.

Belarus, for example, is reported to admit that it cannot afford to pay for adequate law enforcement or financial safeguards and says gangs are exploiting a lack of legislative measures.

Belarusian gangs have successfully removed large amounts of state cash out of the country under false contracts with foreign banks - all of which, the Belarusian government says, it has been unable to stop.

In the report, Belarus is quoted as saying: "It is important to obtain reliable information on the legality of the origin of the financial resources available for investment in order to avoid the possibility of injecting into the economy capital stemming from criminal activity."

But the trafficking doesn't stop with black money moving from east to west. It also involves drugs, arms, nuclear materials and explosives ... and all in increasingly greater numbers.

In the field of vice, organized crime involves trafficking in women, including international prostitution and sexual slavery.

Drug trafficking remains the most profitable activities of organized international crime, though the report says new opportunities for high profits have also arisen and are being exploited.

A significant role in the internationalization of crime has been played by the opening of borders, together with changes of the world's political scene.

Western Europe was referred to in the report as a "common market of crime" because of operations of international criminal gangs, many of which from the East.

Criminals from Albania and the former Yugoslavia are said to be particularly active, especially when it comes to stolen luxury cars.

The report stresses that time is of the essence in combating crime.