Obama issues sanctions to fight international criminal organizations

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama issued an executive order [text] Monday imposing economic sanctions to combat international organized crime [JURIST news archive] operations, freezing their US assets, preventing the transfer of property to the organizations and criminalizing providing aid the organizations. The order targets four specific Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs), though more could be named in the future: Los Zetas from Mexico, the Yakuza from Japan, the Camorra from Italy and the Brothers Circle based in Eastern Europe. The sanctions were imposed pursuant to the president's authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) [50 USC § 1701 et seq.], which allows the president to exercise authority "to deal with any unusual and extraordinary threat, which has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States, to the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States, if the President declares a national emergency with respect to such threat." The sanctions are part of an overall strategy outlined in a 25-page report [text, PDF] entitled the "Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime." The report defines TCOs as:

those self-perpetuating associations of individuals who operate transnationally for the purpose of obtaining power, influence, monetary and/or commercial gains, wholly or in part by illegal means, while protecting their activities through a pattern of corruption and/or violence, or while protecting their illegal activities through a transnational organizational structure and the exploitation of transnational commerce or communication mechanisms. There is no single structure under which transnational organized criminals operate; they vary from hierarchies to clans, networks, and cells, and may evolve to other structures.
The report says that TCOs are able to exploit the "interconnected nature of our modern trading, transportation, and transactional systems that move people and commerce throughout the global economy and across our borders," and admits that the US effort against TCOs has been hampered by "a shift in U.S. intelligence collection priorities since the September 11, 2001." Robert Chesney of the University of Texas School of Law argues [Lawfare op-ed] that the new strategy against TCOs reflects a shift in the use of economic sanctions that recognizes the role of non-state actors in international affairs, similar to the way in which the US is combating foreign terrorist organizations.

Other countries are taking steps to combat organized crime. Last May, Bulgaria passed a bill that allows "civil confiscation" [JURIST report] enabling law enforcement to launch investigations of people who cannot account for their income, a move designed to target organized crime. Last July, Italian police arrested more than 300 individuals [JURIST report] and seized millions of euros worth of assets in a countrywide raid on the 'Ndrangheta [CNN backgrounder] crime organization. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) [official website] released a report last June detailing the globalization of international organized crime [JURIST report] and its threat to international security. The report specifically addressed the global economic impact of human and drug trafficking, sale of illicit firearms, piracy, identity theft and the illegal exploitation of natural resources. The report found that while countries such as Afghanistan and Colombia supply the majority of the world's illegal drugs, the profits from the drugs are primarily found in the countries where the drugs are being sold. Human trafficking is reported to generate a profit of USD $3 billion, with 140,000 victims being exploited in Europe alone. Piracy reportedly doubled over the prior year resulting in an annual income of US $100 million, the majority of which goes to organized crime.

 

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