Organised crime syndicates are targeting Southeast Asia to expand operations: UNODC

Bangkok (Thailand), 18 July 2019
- Profits generated by organized crime groups in Southeast Asia have reached unprecedented and even dangerous levels according to a new report released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The study, "Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact", is the most comprehensive study of organized crime in Southeast Asia by the UN in over five years. The report has found that recent law enforcement suppression efforts in some parts of the region and neighbouring regions have changed trafficking patterns, while at the same time large criminal groups have scaled-up and migrated operations to locations with weak governance, particularly to border areas. Corruption as well as money laundering through casinos are highlighted as significant challenges for the region.

Synthetic drugs have rapidly become the most profitable illicit business in Southeast Asia as organized crime groups have innovated their business model and engineered an expansion of the methamphetamine market, which is now valued at up to USD$ 61.4 billion annually. At the same time, the heroin market has contracted and is now valued at up to USD$ 10.3 billion per year.

The report also confirms that economic disparities within the region have created both a demand for, and supply of, cheap labour, driving growth in human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants as people seek opportunity.

Rising incomes are also playing a role in the illegal wildlife and timber trades. Rare and endangered environmental products are in high demand as purchasing power has increased, and as regional wildlife populations and forest reserves have come under pressure supply chains have extended to Africa.

The region is also a hub for the high profit low risk trade in counterfeit goods and medicines, including some that come with serious public health and safety concerns. The range of counterfeit goods being traded within the region has grown to include everything from illicit tobacco and automobile parts to handbags and alcohol, with the value estimated at up to USD$ 35.9 billion annually. Alarmingly, falsified medicines continue to proliferate and cause immediate health impacts for users while also changing patterns of disease, and they are generating as much as USD$ 2.6 billion per year.

"Organized crime groups are generating tens of billions of dollars in Southeast Asia from the cross-border trafficking and smuggling of illegal drugs and precursors, people, wildlife, timber and counterfeit goods" remarked UNODC Regional Representative, Jeremy Douglas. "Profits have expanded and illicit money is increasingly moving through the regional casino industry and other large cash flow businesses." He added, "Southeast Asia has an organized crime problem, and it is time to coalesce around solutions to address the conditions that have allowed illicit businesses to grow, and to secure and cooperate along borders."

The report is being announced the week before the 2019 ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime or SOMTC in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, where UNODC will brief the meeting and advise governments and international partners on the findings and possible responses. UNODC and the Government of Thailand will also be briefing the ASEAN SOMTC on regional border management plans as part of the 2019 ASEAN Chairmanship effort.

"The organized crime situation in the region is concerning. Syndicates are taking advantage of Southeast Asia, and particularly of countries that struggle to respond," said Prajin Juntong, Senator and former Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand. "We are ready to take a leadership role and work with UNODC and international partners to build resilience and address cross-border trafficking."

UNODC works closely with countries in the region to monitor organized crime trends, provide expert advice, develop policies and strategies and build capacities, and importantly, to create space for countries to collaborate and respond together.

Click here to learn more about UNODC's Regional Programme for Southeast Asia

Click here to learn more about UNODC's transnational crime and border management work in the region

Click here to learn more about the Thai ASEAN Chairmanship 2019 border management priority and the transnational crime priority