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Study Shows Organized Crime Pervasive in Balkans - 2002-04-10

A study by researchers at American University in Washington suggests that it will take 30 years or more to establish the rule of law and eradicate the network of organized crime that is pervasive in the Balkan region of southeast Europe.

Louise Shelley, the director of the Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at American University, says corruption is deeply embedded in the Balkans. Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Ms. Shelley says in the former Yugoslavia and other Balkan states organized crime flourishes because the rule of law is weak and the judiciary is not independent. The region is a major transit route for refugees seeking to reach western Europe and is a center for illicit trade in drugs, people, and weapons.

Her research partner, U.S. defense department analyst Christopher Corpora, says there is a clear link between rogue states, organized crime, and terrorist organizations. He says there is evidence that Albanian guerilla groups have links to organized crime. "Look at the UCK [liberation movement in Kosovo and Macedonia]. You clearly see, at least from some perspectives, a terrorist sort of organization with cellular activity, the familial aspects of Albanian history aside," he says. "And you see the way they funded themselves through drugs and these sorts of things."

Balkans corruption, say the researchers, thrives through informal networks that are often linked to state security services. Ms. Shelley says flawed privatization deals often elevated criminal elements into the executive ranks of banks and airlines. "One of the important consequences of this is that the corruption and intervention of criminal groups into the privatization process has had a long-term distributive impact on it," she says.

Mr. Corpora says the large international civilian and military presence in Kosovo and Bosnia has unwittingly provided a market for corrupt business operations. "There is a great demand for certain goods and services in this area that drives some of this. And not just a small amount," he says. "I mean a lot of unlicensed restaurants and unlicensed kiosks and smuggled cigarettes, smuggled alcohol, oila lot of things are because of international demand."

There is, say the researchers, no simple way to combat the problem. They say efforts must continue to build up civil society and the rule of law, the anchors of western style democracy.