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The nature of organised crime in Europe is changing. Today, organised crime groups are better networked, operate across multiple jurisdictions, and increasingly focus on relatively lower-risk crimes such as illicit trade, the harm of which is more difficult to quantify.
To build the evidence base on organised criminal involvement in illicit trade, On Tap Europe was established as an 18-month project to provide comparative analysis of the role of organised crime in the illicit trade of tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceuticals across the EU. The project gathered evidence from five EU member states – Poland, Spain, Greece, Italy and Romania – assessing the scale and scope of illicit trade, exploring the methods and routes used by organised criminals, and identifying best practice in policy and law-enforcement responses. The results were published in six RUSI Occasional Papers – one for each focus country, and an overarching paper focused on broader trends at the EU level.
Aims and objectives
Illicit trade is rarely considered a priority area of organised crime, with numerous knowledge gaps around its scale and the actors involved. On Tap Europe gathered evidence from five EU countries to assess the methods used by groups involved in illicit trade (understood as the unlawful production, transportation or sale of otherwise legal commodities). It aimed to investigate the role of organised crime in this sphere across source, transit and destination states, and assessed how illicit trade is prioritised and approached by law enforcement in different countries.
In particular, On Tap Europe sought to:
- Explore the routes and methods used by organised criminals in smuggling operations.
- Assess how the scale and impact of illicit trade varies across European countries.
- Explore common enablers, such as postal and internet-based services.
- Identify best practice in law-enforcement responses, cooperation and information sharing.
- Assess the dynamics of organised criminal activity in multiple countries to inform the EU’s response to illicit trade as a whole.
This was the first time such a study had been undertaken at European level. Supplementing desk research and semi-structured interviews and workshops in each country, researchers worked closely with law enforcement, gaining operational experience of the methods used to tackle the threat of illicit trade.
Access the key publications produced as part of this project.
On Tap Europe: Organised Crime and Illicit Trade in Tobacco, Alcohol and Pharmaceuticals
The On Tap series has been cited in academic journals including Trends in Organized Crime and the European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, as well as peer-reviewed books including the Handbook of Research on Counterfeiting and Illicit Trade (Elgar) and Organised Crime in European Businesses (Routledge).
Recommendations made in the On Tap series of publications informed the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the development of the Falsified Medicines Directive.