- Defining organized crime
- Definition in the Organized Crime Convention
- Similarities and differences between organized crime and other forms of crime
- Activities, organization and composition of organized criminal groups
Published in April 2018
Regional Perspective: Eastern and Southern Africa - added in April 2020
This module is a resource for lecturers
Case Study 1 (United States v. Viktor Bout)
Viktor Bout, an arms dealer from Russia, was arrested by the Royal Thai Police in Thailand in 2008. In 2010, Bout was extradited to the United States to stand trial on terrorism charges after having been accused of intending to smuggle arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for use against U.S. forces. Although prosecutors had asked for life in prison, arguing that Bout's weapons trafficking had fuelled conflicts around the world, Viktor Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a Manhattan federal court on charges of: (a) conspiring to kill American citizens (in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2332(b)), officers, and employees (in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1114 and 1117) by agreeing to sell weapons to drug enforcement informants who he believed were members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a terrorist organization known as FARC; (b) conspiring to acquire and export surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles (in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2332g); and (c) conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated terrorist organization (in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2339B).
According to various sources, Bout played a role in fuelling international conflicts with weapons. He ran air transport companies, which operated predominantly in Africa and the Middle East in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. For instance, he operated in several countries under United Nations sanctions such as Liberia, Angola, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan. His company, Air Cess, together with its sister company, Air Pass, are known to have been involved in the smuggling of commodities from South Africa to the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA)'s controlled areas, while he was located in the United Arab Emirates. Based in part on their close association with former Liberian President Charles Taylor, Bout and his associate, Chichakli, have been subjects of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions restricting their travel and their ability to conduct business around the world. According to the UNSC Sanctions Committee Concerning Liberia, Bout "supported former President Taylor's regime in [an] effort to destabilize Sierra Leone and gain illicit access to diamonds." The Sanctions Committee also noted that Chichakli, "an employee/associate" of Bout's, had a "significant role in assisting [Bout] in setting up and managing a number of his key firms and moving money." As a result of the UNSC resolutions and sanctions regime, all United Nations Member States were directed to freeze any funds, financial assets and economic resources owned or controlled by Bout and Chichakli.
Bout was sentenced on 5 April 2012 to 25 years of imprisonment and transferred to the United States Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois, in June 2012.
- Intersection between illicit trade and terrorism
- Who were some of Bout's major clients and what were his biggest deals?
- What specific crimes did Bout commit and was charged for? Why and how did Bout provide material support to terrorist organizations?
- How many domestic and international laws are relevant to this case?
- What were some of the challenges during investigation and prosecution of the Viktor Bout case?
Case Study 2 (White-Collar Crime)
Jonathan Lebed became interested in the stock market when he and two others competed in a stock-picking tournament during high school. He subsequently came up with a scheme to make real money, working out of his bedroom. Using brokerage accounts set up by his father, he bought cheap stocks electronically that were traded on the stock exchange. He would then flood message boards on the Internet with false and misleading postings that gave the impression that these cheap stocks would soon become valuable. Messages such as "Net stock to gain 1000 percent," combined with false stories that he was a company president, created the illusion that he had inside knowledge about these inexpensive stocks and the companies that issued them. To prevent his identity or the source of the postings from being revealed, he used many fictitious names when posting the misleading messages about the cheap stocks he had purchased.
As soon as the stock prices rose in response to his postings, Lebed would sell his shares for a quick profit. According to investigators, he profited between USD 11,000 to more than USD 70,000 on each trade. Ultimately, he was charged with using the Internet to manipulate stocks and earning USD 273,000 in illegal profits. The case was settled when he agreed to pay the Government USD 285,000.
- Order Instituting Cease-And-Desist Proceeding, Making Findings and Imposing Cease-And-Desist Order and Other Relief. Securities and Exchange Commission.
- Pethokoukis, J.M. (2000). How I Spent My Vacation: The SEC Nabs a Teen. U.S. News & World Report, October 2, 44.
- Large-scale stock market manipulation
- Explain whether you would characterize this scheme as white-collar crime or organized crime?
- How can the Organized Crime Convention be used to identify the difference between these two forms of crime?
Case Study 3 (United States v. Juan Almeida)
In January 1997, Juan Almeida (Cuban), Leonid "Tarzan" Fainberg (Ukrainian) and Nelson "Tony" Yester (Cuban) were arrested in Florida, USA and charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Yester was at large at the time of the trial. The conspiracy encompassed three ventures that were undertaken between 1986 and 1995. The first venture took place in the late 1980's when Almeida with fugitive co-conspirator Nelson "Tony" Yester coordinated the transportation of several shipments of cocaine from Miami to New York. The second venture, perhaps the one that gave them a certain degree of fame, entailed the attempt to purchase a World War II-era submarine from the former Soviet Union. The submarine was meant to be used by Pablo Escobar's associates to sneak cocaine from South America up the west coast of the United States into San Francisco. The third venture involved a plan to conceal cocaine inside Russia-bound shipments of shrimps. The Government's "star" witness with respect to the submarine and shrimp ventures was Leonid "Tarzan" Fainberg.
Leonid "Tarzan" Fainberg, a Ukrainian mobster born in Odessa, left the Soviet Union in the early 1980s for Israel, and later moved to the United States following the fall of the Soviet Union. From 1992 to 1997, Fainberg's criminal activities included racketeering, money laundering, counterfeiting money, illegally trafficking girls from Russia and forcing them to work as strippers and prostitutes, importing and distributing narcotics such as cocaine and heroin from South America to the United States, Russia, and elsewhere.
This case sheds light on how organized criminal groups can build mutually beneficial relationships. It also demonstrates the role of brokers in facilitating partnerships between various organized criminal groups. Finally, this case illustrates criminal mobility across national borders and complexity of criminal conspiracies.
- UNODC SHERLOC Case Law Database. No.: USAx104
- United States v. Juan Almeida. United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit. Nos. 01-11553, 01-13235. Decided: August 18, 2003.
- New Statesman (2012). Meet Leonid Fainberg, the ultimate Ukrainian mobster. 13 October.
- Collaboration between criminal groups
- Why do previously competing groups decide to build partnerships? What role do intermediaries play in liaising different organized criminal groups?
- What do such criminal partnerships mean for the efficiency of counter-crime law enforcement operations and the ability of the police to infiltrate and disrupt them?
Case Study 4 (AQIM)
Mokhtar Belmokhtar was heavily criticized by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), when he was part of their group, for engaging in more revenue-generating activities and less on the religious and political agenda of the group. For this, he was dismissed from the group. He then began his own terrorist organization, Katibat El-Moulathamoune (the Signed-In-Blood Battalion), and continued his engagement in illicit trade, namely, in cigarettes.
In 2003, the United Nations designated Belmokhtar as an AQIM member and the US Treasury Department listed him as a financier of a terrorist organization. It was alleged that Belmokhtar led the attack on the international Tiguentourine gas plant in Aménas, Algeria, in which at least 38 people were killed. In 2003, he masterminded the kidnapping of 32 European tourists whom he successfully ransomed. To finance these terrorist activities and more generally the existence of his terrorist organizations, Belmokhtar used the ancient salt route of the Tuareg tribesmen to transport goods from the African west coast through to Timbuktu in Mali, and across Niger before arriving in southern Algeria. He secured close links with the Tuareg tribesmen through marriages to the daughters of four of their most prominent families, and made big profits for AQIM (while he was part of it), through smuggled cigarettes, arms, drugs and people. His large engagements in the illicit cigarette trade made him known throughout the Sahara as "Mr Marlboro."
In June 2004, a tribunal in Illizi, Algeria, sentenced Belmokhtar in absentia to life imprisonment for forming terrorist groups, robbery, detention and use of illegal weapons. In March 2007, Belmokhtar was sentenced in absentia by a criminal court in Algeria to 20 years imprisonment for forming terrorist groups, kidnapping foreigners, and importing and trafficking in illegal weapons. In March 2008, the court of Ghardaïa, Algeria, sentenced Belmokhtar in absentia to life imprisonment for the murder of 13 customs officers. Mokhtar Belmokhtar is active in northern Mali and, among other crimes, was involved in the kidnap of two Canadian diplomats working for the United Nations who were abducted in December 2008. According to some sources, Belmokhtar was killed outside Ajdabiya, in eastern Libya by a U.S. military unit tasked with hunting al-Qaeda in 2015.
- BBC profile
- UN Sanctions List
- DOJ press release
- United States v. Mokhtar Belmokhtar (amended complaint)
- Financing of terrorism with cigarette smuggling
- What was the nature of the involvement of Belmokhtar in illicit trade?
- Why was he disliked by some of his fellows in the terrorist organization?
- What are the limitations of terrorist involvement in illicit trade?
Case Study 5 (Child Pornography; R. v Way)
The Canadian case R. v Way involved 176 films produced by Mr. Brian Way's company, Azov Films, which the prosecution alleged were child pornography recordings but which Way claimed were nudist artistic films of boy models. The defendant argued there were no sexual acts depicted in these films found at the company's offices. The main question to be answered in court was whether the material in question constituted child pornography as defined in the Canadian Criminal Code (Section 163.1 (1) (ii), according to which the dominant characteristic of child pornography is "depiction, for a sexual purpose, of a sexual organ or the anal region of a person under the age of eighteen years." Another question was to establish whether those in Way's enterprise constituted an organized criminal group.
The court noted that Azov Films was sophisticated and quickly expanded internationally. The website had legal text suggesting the material was legal in Canada and the United States. It had an online library or catalogue with a search function and a familiar payment system. The material could be downloaded or be provided in hard copy by post or by courier. Azov Films' customer list and details from the defendant's home collection resulted in the investigation to expand as more severe cases of child sexual abuse and child pornography were revealed. Hundreds of at risk children were identified worldwide and hundreds of adults across continents were arrested following high levels of cooperation between law enforcement agencies internationally.
While the defendant referred to the children or boys as models the court examined the features of the legislation to confirm that the sexualized nudity of children fell within the definition of child pornography. In doing so it also confirmed that child pornography on the low end of the scale (in terms of severity), constitutes child pornography for the purposes of the Canadian Criminal Code. Notably while no sexual acts were perpetrated directly on the 40 or so children (mainly from Romania and Ukraine) in the case, the court attached significance to the feelings of shame and depression that the boys suffered. It was noted that the boys felt disgraced when they realized the films were sold around the world; some suffered anxiety and agitation. The films were for sale in 92 different countries. At least one of the boys was groomed to appear in adult pornography movies when he reached the age of 18, videos that were also distributed by the company.
The court concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that given the sexual poses, the type of activities engaged in, the website on which the films are sold (the common element of which is the sale of films that depict young nude boys and men), the fact that graphic photographs accompany some of the films, and the communications by Way regarding the desires of his ever increasing client base, the reasonable viewer would consider that the depictions were for a sexual purpose. In sum the court was satisfied both that the dominant characteristic of the films was the depiction of the genitals and anal regions of the boys and for a sexual purpose that those films were therefore child pornography.
The prosecution also argued that the entire enterprise should be considered an organized criminal group. Nonetheless, the facts did not meet the definition in this case as the individuals were employees, including Way's mother who was listed as the company's treasurer and administrator, a cameraman and an editor. In addition, no evidence was produced regarding: (a) the rules of the organization; (b) the interrelationship among the parties to the alleged organized criminal group; (c) the knowledge of Mr. Way's employees about what other members of the organization were doing for the organized criminal group. The court was influenced by the fact that the film company also produced other films that were not illegal, thus complicating the test in terms of identifying the financial or other material benefit-the mens rea required as evidence of an organized criminal group. Therefore, the court concluded that no evidence was produced proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the organization had the structure necessary to constitute an organized criminal group.
Although Azov Films was not found to be an organized criminal group, Way's culpability was attached to his private collection kept at his home with some 187,001 unique images and 8,747 unique videos) and which he also shared. Way, however, was sentenced on 15 counts linked to both the manufacture and sale of child pornography and his personal collection of child pornography. He was found not guilty of instructing others to import, produce, distribute and export child pornography for the benefit of an organized criminal group.
In August 2016 he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and a fine of $20,000. He was required to register himself as a sex offender; provide a sample of his DNA for forensic analysis; and was forbidden from going into a public park or public swim area where children under 16 are present or can reasonably be expected to be present, or a day-care centre, school ground, playground or community centre; seeking, obtaining or continuing any employment, or becoming a volunteer in a capacity, that involves being in a position of trust or authority over children under the age of 16. In addition, he was forbidden from using a computer to communicate with a person under 16. This provision was stated to remain in force for 10 years after Way's release.
- SHERLOC Case Law Database UNODCNo.: CANx065.
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2006), Travaux Préparatoires of the Negotiations for the Elaboration of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols thereto. Vienna: UNODC.
- Sexualized child modelling, interpretations of art and interplays with child pornography
- Constituting elements of an organized criminal group
- How can one distinguish child pornography from modelling?
- How is an organized criminal group defined in the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime?
- What elements of this case did the court consider to determine whether the enterprise constituted an organized criminal group?
Regional perspective: Eastern and Southern Africa
Case study 6 (Ivory Queen - Tanzania)
In 2015, Mr. Salvius Francis Matembo, Mr. Manase Julius Philemon, and Ms. Yang Feng Glan were arrested and indicted for running one of Africa’s most prominent ivory-trafficking rings in Tanzania. The three individuals were accused of smuggling 860 elephant tusks, worth more than 5.4 billion Tanzanian shillings (around USD 2.5 million) in an illegal operation that ran between 2000 and 2014. The chief of the criminal syndicate was Ms. Yang Feng Glan, an influential businesswoman of Chinese origin, soon to be nicknamed the “Ivory Queen” by the media.
Eleven witnesses testified against the trio. They reported that Yang Feng Glan received the ivory tusks from the other two perpetrators and shipped the illegal cargo to Asia through the port of Dar Es Salaam. Several witnesses were individuals that had been contracted by the defendants in the capacity of their respective professions, such as security guard, taxi driver, waiter, or banker. The perpetrators denied all accusations; however, the considerable evidence eventually led the judge to sentence each of them to 15 years imprisonment. Furthermore, the Court ordered the confiscation of the buildings used for the illegal operations and imposed a fine, which doubled the estimated value of the ivory trafficked.
The defendants’ appealed the sentence on several grounds, questioning the testimony provided by the personnel and the evidence of the trafficked ivory produced in the courtroom. The appeal was dismissed in October 2019.