[IWAR] EUROPE crime defies borders

From: 7Pillars Partners (partnersat_private)
Date: Fri Feb 06 1998 - 09:39:53 PST

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    In Europe, crime defies national borders
          Copyright  1998 Nando.net
          Copyright  1998 Scripps Howard
       BRUSSELS (February 6, 1998 00:08 a.m. EST http://www.nando.net) --
       Europe's power brokers have been talking for years about the need to
       tackle organized crime in the European Union, but their minds have been
       focused recently by a spate of incidents in their own back yard.
       Since December, there have been more than 180 carjackings in Brussels,
       home to hundreds of wealthy officials and diplomats whose taste for big,
       fancy cars has attracted the attention of criminals.
       By the time the victims have alerted Belgian police, the Mercedes,
       Audis, Golfs and Saabs are usually well on their way to the Polish
       border in the east or Spanish ports in the south.
       According to one Belgian policeman, cars sporting the stickers of local
       Brussels garages are now a common sight in Poland.
       The increase in the number of carjackings is symptomatic of a
       Europe-wide rise in the activities of organized gangs and mafias that
       specialize in drug trafficking, prostitution, money laundering, arms and
       radioactive materials.
       Experts say the explosion in criminal activity corresponds with the
       lowering of border controls between most EU member states and the
       collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe.
       "In Russia at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the mafia
       gangs were one of the few groups that remained organized," said an
       official from Britain's National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS).
       He added that the groups were given an extra edge by the frequent
       presence of former military personnel.
       The mafias first made inroads into the Benelux countries and Germany via
       prostitution. They have since spread their tentacles into other
       countries and other crimes.
       The EU response has been slow and heavy-handed. Though European
       ministers have been meeting since 1975 to exchange information and
       experience, progress has been hampered by their reluctance to pool
       sovereignty in the sensitive areas of law enforcement and justice.
       There's also been a lack of trust among police forces in different
       European countries.
       "Criminal networks benefit from the differences between different
       justice systems, ensuring almost total impunity," says a European
       Commission paper. "An international criminal fraternity has been able to
       develop and prosper thanks to the inconsistencies between systems in
       each member state."
       So even if the German police capture a criminal driving a car stolen in
       Belgium, legal obstacles will hinder efforts not only to return the car
       but also to bring the thief to justice.
       The need to do more was highlighted at a recent meeting of justice and
       home affairs ministers in Birmingham, England.
       "There is no question about the need to improve the mutual arrangements
       between member states," said British Home Secretary Jack Straw, who
       chaired the informal council.
       Britain has picked organized crime as a priority for its six-month
       presidency of the EU. It used the Birmingham meeting to pressure on
       Belgium, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg to complete ratification of the
       Europol convention -- a move that would allow the so far highly
       constrained European police intelligence agency to do more to fight
       organized crime. Once ratification is complete, the agency, based in The
       Hague, will assume the power to work alongside domestic police forces
       investigating cross-border crime.
       The ministers also looked at the recommendations of an action plan
       against organized crime. Points picked out for special attention include
       work on combating high-tech crime and the swift adoption of a raft of
       conventions aimed at improving cooperation in legal and justice fields.
       The plan also raises the pressing need to help the countries of Eastern
       Europe that are preparing for EU membership to get their legal and
       justice systems in order. The task is formidable, especially given the
       extent to which many of the countries bordering the EU have become home
       to criminal gangs.
       "We have to be sure that they follow the rule of law, that their
       judiciaries are independent, that they are not subject to highly
       organized crime and that they will be able to police their external
       borders effectively," said Straw.
       Nevertheless, there's a strong conviction that the EU has done too
       little for the Eastern European applicants.
       "Do you really think the French or German police will be ready to share
       confidential information with the Polish or Estonian police in five
       years' time?" asked one official.
       By EMMA TUCKER, The Financial Times. Distributed by Scripps Howard News

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