Serious and Organised Crime
The essential components of an organised crime group are defined by the Australian Institute of Criminology as “a structured group of three or more persons, existing for a period of time, acting in concert with the aim of committing serious criminal offences in order to obtain some financial or material benefit. As such, organised crime requires three or more persons to come together for the execution of their common purpose.” Organised crime impacts the lives of Australians in many ways. It is a national security threat that is destructive, pervasive, and sinister, costing Australia up to $47 billion each year (ATO estimates). Statistics attributed to organised crime are detailed within the enclosed crime statistics. Approximately 70 per cent of Australia’s serious and organised crime threats are based offshore or have offshore links.
The Australian Federal Police characterise serious crime by one or more of the following factors: serious offences against persons, property, or government; organised criminal activity; significant political or public interest crimes which are multi-jurisdictional and/or transnational in nature; investigations which involve a large number of documents or exhibits; and investigations which require the commitment of substantial funding or resources. Organised crime groups in Australia continue to adapt and evolve from being communally based, strongly hierarchical, and easily defined by ethnicity or ethos, towards more flexible, loosely associated, and entrepreneurial networks. These networks bring together groups and individuals with differing roles and levels of involvement in the criminal activity, and generally involve individuals of different ethnicities, skill sets and criminal interests. Some groups form for short periods for specific activities, while others are more enduring.
Serious and Organised Crime (SOC) is transnational in nature, technology-enabled and increasingly functions as a business relying on professionals to help launder ill-gotten gains by setting up structures to place, layer and integrate funds. Organised crime harms the Australian community, economy, government, and way of life. One of the distinguishing characteristics of organised crime is the extent to which it intermingles with non-criminal domains of society. Organised crime generally consists of three main offences, being illicit goods, illicit services and infiltration of legitimate business or government. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) has identified six key enablers for serious and organised crime:
- Money laundering;
- Professional facilitators;
- Identity crime;
- Public sector corruption; and
- Violence and intimidation.
These key enablers have a unique role in facilitating serious and organised crime within Australia and transnationally. Further, activities such as money laundering and identity crime contribute to the effectiveness of other types of organised crime. While not all of the above enablers are present in every illicit market, two or more enablers may be used concurrently within the same criminal enterprise. As a general rule, organised criminal networks are involved in many different types of criminal activities spanning several countries. Members of organised crime groups often share a common link, for example geographical, ethnic, or even blood ties. At the root of this connection is a tight, often unbreakable bond which promotes devotion and loyalty.
SOC’s existence is contingent on its embeddedness within larger political, cultural, and economic networks. Empirical research often views organised crime as a social system shaped by sets of overlapping relationships based on kinship; neighbourhood and village ties; shared cultural values; and, more importantly, the exchange of resources, power, and favours. In many cases, organised crime groups market their services and products to the non-criminal public. However, within the Australian context, organised criminals typically operate in multiple sectors across the illicit, grey, and black markets, in both formal and shadow economies.
Organised crime is a supply and demand-driven space. Highlighting this, the 2021 Europol Serious Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) reveals that close to 40% of the criminal networks active in the European Union are involved in the trade in illegal drugs, and around 60 % actively use violence as part of their criminal businesses. The use of corruption and the abuse of legal business structures are also key features of serious and organised crime in Europe. Two thirds of criminals use corruption on a regular basis. More than 80 % of the criminal networks use legal business structures.
Violence is recognised as a common feature of SOC activity because of the lack of recourse to legitimate avenues of dispute resolution, such as police, courts, or tribunals. Such violence can result from territorial disputes or disputes over business transactions or to protect their illicit business operations. This can involve the use of violence both within and between groups. Such violence can also be an opportunistic response to a rival group being the subject of law enforcement activity, with a competitor seeking to capitalise on their adversary’s misfortune by taking over their business, thereby filling the void left in the market. Violence within organised crime groups can occur as a means of maintaining discipline, deterring informants, collecting debts, determining hierarchy within the group, maintaining personal reputation, and deterring competition for leadership positions.
Internal and external violence is casually discussed and negotiated between criminals seeking violence as a service, and the commission of violent acts is increasingly becoming a stand-alone business in the criminal environment. This increasingly diversified business model generates volatile trading relationships, and in turn heightens the sense of distrust among the service-oriented participants; leading to further competition and violence. As part of this development, violence may become more common to traditionally non-violent criminal activities such as excise fraud or cybercrime. Moreover, it is widely known that within outlaw motorcycle gangs, a propensity for violence is recognised as an attribute essential for membership and part of probationary periods. At times, this violence will take place in public areas and risk the lives of innocent members of the public.
Finally, the threat from cyber crime (also known as cyber-dependent crime) has been increasing over the last years, not only in terms of the number of attacks reported but also in terms of the sophistication of attacks. Cyber-dependent crime is likely significantly underreported. Criminal groups that engage in cyber organised crime also provide services that facilitate crimes and cybercrimes (crime as a service), such as data and identity documents (e.g., financial and health data, passports, voter registration identifications); malware (i.e., made to order or known malware - e.g., Zeus, a banking Trojan, designed to surreptitiously capture users' banking details and other information needed to log in to online accounts); distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and botnet services; keyloggers; phishing/spear phishing tools; hacking tutorials; and information about vulnerabilities and exploits and instructions on how to take advantage of these methods and tactics. Organised criminal groups have also profited and/or otherwise benefited from illicit products and services offered online.
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