Follow the Money: Experts Meet in the Balkans to Address the Financial Profits from Migrant Smuggling


 "Where deprivation of liberty no longer appears to be an effective threat, the targeting of financial assets seems more feared by smugglers." So did H.E. Ms. Christine Toudic, Ambassador of France in Montenegro open UNODC Regional Expert Meeting that gathered law enforcement practitioners and prosecutors from 14 countries, together with experts from civil society organisations, regional and international organisations on 26 and 28 April 2017 in Budva, Montenegro. This meeting, the second of the kind under the Global Programme against the Smuggling of Migrants, within the framework of the Regional Programme for South Eastern Europe, aimed at discussing and share experience related to the use of special investigative techniques and financial investigations in cross-border investigations in the area of smuggling of migrants.

The opening of the meeting was an opportunity for H.E. Ms. Toudic, Mr. Milivoje Katnic, Special State Prosecutor of Montenegro, Mr. Zoran Ulama, National Anti-human trafficking Coordinator of Montenegro and Ms. Morgane Nicot of UNODC to highlight the importance of cooperation as a prerequisite for dismantling the organized crime groups and networks that often are behind the smuggling of migrants to remind participants of the vulnerability of smuggled migrant to being trafficked. Emphasizing that it takes a network to fight a network, the role of informal networks and strong inter-institutional cooperation in this endeavour was repeatedly referred to.

Practitioners around the room shared their direct experience in investigating and prosecuting migrant smuggling in the region through concrete cases which illustrated the importance, yet difficulty to follow the money by removing the profit from the crime, breaking the business model of smugglers by seizing, freezing and confiscating the assets and proceeds of crime. Representatives of specialized agencies from France such as TRACFIN (Financial Intelligence Unit) and AGRASC (Agency for the Recovery and Management of Seized and Confiscated Assets) as well as the private sector: MoneyGram and Western Union, shared examples of good practices which could help in pursuing these efforts. Yet, migrant smuggling being largely a cash based crime, experts also emphasized the challenges posed by the detection of the illicit financial flows and why it was essential to use a financial analysis at the beginning of the investigation to trace the destination of the proceeds from these criminal activities.

Participants highly valued the format of the meeting which allowed for a hands on exchange of experience, including on ways and means to address smuggling networks in South Eastern Europe with the tools available to tackle organized crime, such as special investigative techniques. The third Regional Expert Meeting, to take place in the autumn 2017, will be supported by the Government of France which has accompanied UNODC in project since the first meeting in the region in November 2016.