EU, U.S. urge cooperation to fight crime

GHENT, Belgium, AP

European and American officials called Wednesday for more trans-Atlantic cooperation to combat organized crime, which is going global to sidestep national controls.

Opening a three day conference on transnational crime, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said “there is only one level at which organized crime can be dealt with — the global one.”

Organized crime worldwide has grown into a US$1.5 trillion industry — bigger than the gross national product of many small countries — according to U.N. estimates.

Swedish Justice Minister Thomas Bodstroem said the only way to combat crime on a global scale was for the United States and the European Union to work together closely.

“The EU and the U.S. have to be the driving force in the international efforts in the fight against organized crime,” Bodstroem told the opening session. “And from the EU side, I have to admit that we not yet fully taken our responsibility in that regard.”

The chief American representative agreed on the need for coordinated action.

“To be effective, our response must also be global,” said Wendy Chamberlin, a senior U.S. State Department official who tracks law enforcement and narcotics issues.

“A Russian national with Israeli citizenship residing in Greece who arranges illegal arms shipments to destabilize Sierra Leone and launders his money in Panama must face justice,” she added.

Conference participants said international criminal syndicates have proven adept at exploiting globalization, including use of the Internet and the elimination of border controls within the European Union.

In order to meet the challenge, Chamberlin called for steps such as streamlining legal codes, especially those governing international financial transactions which criminals use to move money across borders.

“What is a crime in one country may not be elsewhere,” she told the delegates. “Laws governing jurisdictional prosecution may, in fact, create loopholes allowing criminals to slip through.”

Participants also spoke of the political problems in combating human-trafficking, which has turned into a major source of profits for criminal gangs that smuggle people from poor to rich countries.

Since the collapse of Communism in Europe a decade ago, hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants have swarmed Western countries, many of them paying criminals to smuggle them across borders.

It is estimated some 400,000 illegal immigrants enter Europe every year, with such illegal trafficking doubling worldwide.

The plight of the illegals hit home to many Western Europeans last summer, when 58 illegal mainland Chinese immigrants suffocated in a cargo truck trying to make their way across the Channel into Britain.

The swell of illegal immigrants has blurred the dividing line with bona fide asylum seekers. Both illegal immigrants and those seeking refuse from political oppression are becoming the target of xenophobic abuse in several European nations.