31st Mar 2023


Ex-pat EU criminals use Dubai as hideout, leak confirms

  • Dubai hosted 'vast amount of high-value targets', EU memo said (Photo: Nacho Pintos)
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Dubai, Turkey, and the Western Balkans are hotspots of criminality in the EU neighbourhood, according to internal reports.

"We know that a vast amount of high-value targets mastermind and enable their criminal activities while residing in countries (e.g. Dubai, UAE, and Turkey) being particularly attractive for European ex-pat criminals," the EU said in a memo dated 13 November and seen by EUobserver.

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  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Photo: Erik de Haan)


Police from nine EU states as well as Norway, Switzerland, and the US were conducting joint operations "to locate and extradite the 'untouchable' ex-pat criminals and to confiscate their criminal assets," it noted.

"Getting to know their relationships and building understanding of their lifestyles can reveal their vulnerabilities and potential pressure points," the memo added.

And Europol, the EU's joint police agency in The Hague, was helping to create "a list of HVT [high value targets] residing in Dubai-UAE-Turkey", it said.

The document, entitled "Operational Action Plan 2022 on high-risk criminal networks", was written by EU officials in the Council, where member states meet.

It was circulated ahead of member states' talks on crime-fighting priorities later this month and drew on Europol information.

"In addition to trafficking hubs in the EU, Dubai (UAE) has emerged as a key location for key organisers and money-laundering activities associated with the cocaine trade in the EU," another EU memo, dated 14 November, said.

EU police aimed to "agree operational cooperation with Dubai authorities to target [suspected] containers originating in Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan transiting through the port of Dubai for onward shipment to EU destinations," EU officials noted.

And Taliban rule in Afghanistan meant more drugs were coming, the EU files warned.

"Significant production output [of heroin] ... primarily in Afghanistan, may entail an increase in trafficking activity to the EU," one memo said.

Afghanistan's methamphetamine output was also "expanding rapidly" and "the new political situation in Afghanistan will require special attention of EU law enforcement agencies on ... methamphetamine production with use of ephedra plants," another report from the EU crime dossier added.

Turkey and Balkans

Meanwhile, "Turkey remains the key transit country for heroin trafficked to the EU, both on the Balkan routes and on the southern Caucasus route," EU officials said.

"Ukraine, Belarus, and Azerbaijan are used as locations to warehouse heroin consignments destined for the EU," they noted.

Officials also spoke of joint EU, US, and Colombian police operations to combat the "global threat" of a "Balkan cartel" that was "mainly composed of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia".

"Importation from Latin America to EU and further cocaine distribution on [the] EU narco-market ... [are] the 'core business' - main criminal activity of this OCN [organised crime network] - as well as accompanying forms of crime, such as murders and violence related to clan wars, corruption, money laundering," the EU report said.

The Western Balkans were named as "a source of illegal firearms".

"Hand grenades illicitly trafficked and used in some EU member states ... typically originate from Bosnia and Herzegovina and other Western Balkan countries," an EU file said.

And "Albanian-speaking criminal networks sexually exploit Albanian victims [of human-trafficking] across Europe, particularly in Kosovo, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Switzerland, and the UK," an EU memo noted.

'Truly global'

Turkey and the Western Balkans were also named as "hubs" for migrant-smugglers, in league with gangs in Belarus, Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine.

"Because of the current operational picture in regards to the Belarusian border with Lithuania and Poland, special attention should be focused on this direction," EU officials said, referring to Belarus' recent use of migrants to attack Polish borders.

But the overall EU crime picture was more complex than that, the files indicated.

"The nature of organised crime is truly global, with more than 180 nationalities involved in serious and organised crime activities in the EU," one report said.

"Suspects originating from Latin America are increasingly involved in the cocaine trade in the EU. This includes nationals of Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico," the files noted.

Cocaine from Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru was trafficked to the EU "mainly [via] Brazil and Ecuador as well as Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela", they said.

Vietnamese gangs were smuggling in MDMA tablets and guilty of human trafficking.

But "the geographical scope of EU-based exploitation [of trafficked people] is truly global. Victims from eastern EU and non-EU neighbouring states but also from Asian countries are exploited in the labour industry, mainly in western and northern EU countries," an EU memo dated 14 November said.

"Sexual exploitation of victims ... takes place in all EU member states," it said.

EU underbelly

The leaked files shed light on Europe's dark underbelly.

"Some member states have observed a notable increase in the level of violence associated with the trade in cannabis," one report said.

And "the number of violent incidents related to trade in cocaine has been increasing. The nature of these attacks is also escalating in terms of impact and victims, which now include journalists, lawyers, bystanders, and others not involved in the cocaine trade," it added.

EU officials said "the Italian 'Ndrangheta and Sicilian mafia" were "currently the most powerful mafia type and family based OCGs [Organised Crime Groups]", with members "settled and active in multiple member states and third countries".

Their activities included "in primis, international drug trafficking and large scale money-laundering through the setting up of new businesses," an EU memo said.

Belgium and the Netherlands were "major producers and suppliers of amphetamine and MDMA", EU officials noted.

"A large amount of child sexual abuse material is hosted in Europe. This has been the case in the last years during which there has been a shift from North America," an EU report added.

And European "suspected/known (high risk) offenders" were "travelling to Thailand and other emerging hotspots" to abuse children, it said.

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