Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Mafia-States, According to Foreign Affairs Magazine

Adelina Marini, May 16, 2012

"In mafia states such as Bulgaria, Guinea-Bissau, Montenegro, Myanmar (also called Burma), Ukraine, and Venezuela, the national interest and the interests of organised crime are now inextricably intertwined", writes in an article for the influential American magazine Foreign Affairs Moises Naim, in its May/June edition. Mr Naim is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy. In his text the expert points out that the global economic crisis has proved a powerful boost for transnational crime. "Thanks to the weak economy, cash-rich criminal organisations can acquire financially distressed but potentially valuable companies at bargain prices. Fiscal austerity is forcing governments everywhere to cut the budgets of law enforcement agencies and court systems. Millions of people have been laid of and are thus more easily tempted to break the law".

But the bigger problem, according to the author, is, though, that up to now international crime was broadly underestimated as a factor and was viewed more in a national context. Alas, this is no longer the case and it is necessary to pay serious attention to the problem, as well as to internationalise the efforts for its tackling.

According to the definition, which Moises Naim provides for mafia-states, those are statal subjects, where government officials enrich themselves and their families and friends while exploiting the money, muscle, political influence, and global connections of criminal syndicates to cement and expand their own power. Moreover, the highest positions in some of the most profitable illicit enterprises are no longer filled only by professional criminals; they now include senior government officials, legislators, spy chiefs, heads of police departments, military officers, and, in some extreme cases, even heads of state or their family members.

Very often in mafia-states high government officials become integral players in, if not the leaders of, criminal enterprises. The scale, according to the author, is huge and could be compared to the biggest multinational corporations in the world.

The mafia has a state

In his text, the author describes each of the mentioned above 6 mafia-states and quotes the famous remark of General Atanas Atanassov, a member of Bulgaria's parliament and former chief of the counterintelligence of Bulgaria: "Other countries have a mafia, in Bulgaria the mafia has a state". The edition points out that Russia is definitely not the only country where the line between government agencies and criminal gangs is blurred. Last year's Council of Europe report is quoted, in which it is claimed that Kosovo PM Hashim Thaçi and his political allies exert "violent control over the trade in heroin and other narcotics" and that they occupy important positions in “Kosovo’s mafia-like structures of organised crime.”

"The state-crime nexus is perhaps even stronger in Bulgaria", the author writes. "A 2005 U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks last year is worth quoting at length, given the disturbing portrait it paints of Bulgaria’s descent into mafia statehood. The cable read, in part: 'Organised crime has a corrupting influence on all Bulgarian institutions, including the government, parliament and judiciary. In an attempt to maintain their influence regardless of who is in power, oc [organised crime] figures donate to all the major political parties. As these figures have expanded into legitimate businesses, they have attempted—with some success—to buy their way into the corridors of power. ... Below the level of the national government and the leadership of the major political parties, oc “owns” a number of municipalities and individual members of parliament. This direct participation in politics—as opposed to bribery—is a relatively new development for Bulgarian oc. Similarly in the regional centre of Velingrad, oc figures control the municipal council and the mayor’s office. Nearly identical scenarios have played out in half a dozen smaller towns and villages across Bulgaria'."

The consequences for foreign policy

But in fact the bigger problem, which can be seen in the text of Moises Naim, is that the foreign policy of mafia-states is directly dependent on the interests of crime syndicates, which is no longer a problem of the country in question or its neighbours. It is a problem of the entire international community. Mr Naim recalls that until very recently foreign policy experts believed that international crime was not such a significant problem as, for instance, the threat of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction and that this problem could be tackled by the domestic legal systems. This is refuted by itself because it is known that in mafia-states these structures are infected too.

The danger hides not just in the fact that governments in a mafia-state can participate in illicit trade with nuclear weapons or technologies for the development of nuclear weapons, as was the case of the Pakistani scientist, considered to be the father of the nuclear bomb of Pakistan and who was thought to have been hired by a crime syndicate, dealing with delivery of nuclear technology for North Korea and Iran. The author quotes also the example of the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia for the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. According to Thomas de Waal, Carnegie Endowment’s expert on the Caucasus, and quoted by Moises Naim, before the conflict criminal organisations operated highly profitable operations in South Ossetia, where illicit trade accounted for a significant part of the economy - a situation described in details in the book of Misha Glenny, a British journalist, McMafia.

Moises Naim admits that it is difficult to find evidence in support of the direct link in this case, but the scale of illicit activities suggests for an active participation of high level Russian officials, who acted as bosses of criminals and as their partners. It is mentioned that the conflict was fuelled by many other factors, among which ethnic strife, domestic Georgian politics, and Russia’s desire to assert its hegemony in its near abroad, but it it obvious that interested parties were pushing the Kremlin toward war. The author thinks that, in fact, governments involved in illicit activities are much more prone to use force when their access to profitable markets is threatened.

The rise of mafia-states requires urgency in the search for ways to internationalise the fight against crime, writes in conclusion the author. A promising approach could be the creation of "coalitions of the honest" among law enforcement agencies that are less likely to have been penetrated or captured by criminal groups. Some countries, he writes, already experiment with relations outside the usual cooperation in the area of the fight against crime by involving not only the law enforcement agencies but also representatives of intelligence bodies and the armed forces.

Additional step could be to develop multinational networks of magistrates, judges, police officials, intelligence analysts, and policymakers to encourage a greater degree of cooperation than Interpol affords by building on the trust that exists among senior law enforcement officers who have fought transnational criminal networks together for decades.

"Unfortunately, despite the near-universal recognition that combating international crime requires international action, most anti crime initiatives remain primarily domestic. And although mafia states have transformed international crime into a national security issue, the responsibility for combating it still rests almost exclusively with law enforcement agencies", concludes Moises Naim in his article for the Foreign Affairs magazine, entitled "Mafia-States. Organised Crime Takes Office".

Another problem he points out in his article is that it is hard to gather evidence about the links between organised crime and governments, especially in mafia-states, where more investigative journalists are needed and higher activity of the civil society. By the way, in the past two years the European Commission especially emphasises on the role of civil society in its reports under the Control and Verification Mechanism in the area of the judiciary, with which Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the very existence of this mechanism is an evidence of the fact that there is a systemic problem with organised crime in Bulgaria but it is insufficient to show the scale.