Human trafficking is the slavery of our times with the victims a tiny cog in a corruption machine that involves highly-organised criminal gangs working across several member states, say experts.
Addressing a special committee on crime at the European Parliament on Tuesday (19 February), the EU’s anti-trafficking coordinator Myria Vassiliadou told euro-deputies that “those capable of controlling the entire trafficking process, including high end corruption and money laundering” are behind human trafficking.
The victims are most often society’s vulnerable.
Children forced into begging, girls prostituted against their will, desperate others seeking honest work but then caught up in sweat shop conditions are among the more common profiles of the trafficked.
“It is the slavery of our times,” said Vassiliadou.
The criminal gangs involved have well-established logistical bases and contacts in source, transit, and destination countries, says the EU police agency Europol.
Some of those contacts are corrupt police officers in member states, said Francois Farcy, a director in Belgium’s Federal Police, at a separate panel on intelligence led policing against organised transnational crime.
“There are corrupt policemen in every member state,” said Farcy.
His statement was backed by Oliver Huth of the Federal German Association of Detective Officers and Crime Investigators. He noted that police corruption has both national and international dimensions.
Drew Harris from the UK’s crime operations department suggested police investigators working on sensitive cases should be vetted throughout their careers to guarantee integrity.
Human trafficking is a lucrative business.
Estimates on the global profit generated every year hovers at around €25 billion.
“We need to take away the financial incentives and go after the organised criminal networks,” said Vassiliadou.
Fake art and money laundering
The cash flow generated is then laundered. Banks, insurance companies, and money transfer services are the most common vehicles.
But there are other more elaborate techniques.
In some cases, criminals convert cash into casino chips and then back again after having gambled a small amount. Online casino sites offer additional protection because the servers which host them and their virtual accounts are often hidden or shielded.
Others hold fake art auctions. The criminal transfers the amount to be laundered to a contact who then buys the fake art. The sale makes the money legitimate.
Fictitious trials are also used to launder money.
The gang sets up two companies. One then sues the other for an alleged breach of contract accompanied by a claim for compensation.
The defendant company then agrees to the demands of the plaintiff. The illicit cash is transferred through the court system and then becomes legitimate.
The European Commission, for its part, has tabled a number of EU laws to stem money laundering.
In early February, the Brussels-executive proposed a legislative update to improve the so-called third anti-money laundering directive launched in 2006. The proposal also aims to improve the funds transfer regulation.
The updated directive proposals drop the current threshold of cash payments. Those exchanging a minimum of €7,500 in cash are now flagged, down from the original €15,000.