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The 11 richest countries with the biggest organised crime problems

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter

Organised crime is a major blight on the lives of millions of people worldwide, and holds back economies in rich and poor countries alike.

A survey earlier this year asked almost 17,000 business leaders in the majority of the world’s countries about the extent of organised crime and its economic toll.

The annual ‘executive opinion survey’ was compiled by the World Economic Forum (WEF), best known for organising the Davos summit.

A policeman stands guard in Sinaloa state, Mexico. Photo: Alfredo Estrella/AFP via Getty Images

Many Latin American and Caribbean economies ranked near the bottom of the list, with El Salvador rated worst of all by local business chiefs.

El Salvador, which suffered from a brutal civil war in the 1980s, also had the highest recorded homicide rate. Human Rights Watch says gangs have control of parts of the country, killing, raping or displacing those who resist them.

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At the top of the table was Finland, with business leaders reporting minimal evidence of organised crime. Finland also had the best score on WEF’s 2019 global competitiveness rankings for the reliability of police services.

Many rich countries were lower down or only in the middle of the rankings, despite their economic development and high GDP per head. It suggests organised crime is at least occasionally a concern for some local business leaders.

Yahoo Finance UK analysed the scores of members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a club of many though not all of the world’s richest countries, on the list.

Here are the worst-ranked 11 OECD members on the WEF league table for organised crime.

Portugal

Portuguese police check for labour exploitation on a farm. Photo: Rafael Marchante/Reuters

Portugal came in at only 46th best in the world for businesses’ ability to operate free of any spillover effects from organised crime.

It is one of the main destinations for both cocaine and people trafficked from South America to Europe, according to the UN. Human trafficking is largely for sexual exploitation.

One huge organised crime ring with links to Portugal uncovered in 2015 had more than 50,000 victims around the world. The group ran a sophisticated pyramid fraud scheme, offering investments in a music sharing platform, according to Europol.

France

France may be the world’s seventh largest economy, but it ranks below Portugal as only 60th best.

It has an estimated 19 million firearms in circulation among civilians, far higher than many other wealthy countries. By contrast, England and Wales, Colombia and Ukraine all have three million in circulation.

Like Portugal, it is one of the most common destinations for human trafficking from South America, and Europe’s fifth largest cocaine market.

Greece

Greece ranked 68th, with the country marking an important point on the so-called ‘Balkan route’ for Afghan heroin heading to Europe.

Several significant Greek organised crime groups have also been caught facilitating illegal migration and providing fake documents to both them and other groups in recent years.

Europol says people smuggling is one of the most profitable and widespread activities among European organised crime groups.

United States

Police stand near where reputed mob boss Francesco 'Franky Boy' Cali lived and was gunned down in New York. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The US ranked in the middle of the league table in 69th position.

A report by the Congressional Research Service has previously warned that in the decade after 9/11, resources shifted away from fighting traditional crime towards counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence.

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“Subsequently, there has been a decrease in the federal law enforcement resources dedicated to organized crime matters,” it said.

It also highlighted the threat to tax revenue from illegal activities such as cigarette trafficking and tax evasion scams, and to the financial industry from fraud.

United Kingdom

The UK ranked one lower than the US in the rankings at 70th.

A National Audit Office report earlier this year said serious and organised crime cost the UK £37bn a year.

It said more than 4,500 organised crime groups operated in Britain, from high-value property thieves to the drug trade to firearms supply.

Germany

Germany was four places below Britain and in the bottom half of the table at 74th.

It is the fourth biggest cocaine market in Europe, and one of the four biggest heroin markets. The largest ever cocaine haul was seized this summer, with customs officials finding a record 4.5 tons worth an estimated €1bn ($1.11bn).

Figures suggest the economic damage from organised crime has been dropping in recent years, however.

Hungary

A Hungarian police helicopter. Photo: AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh

Hungary ranked 80th on the list.

“Organized criminal groups control most prostitution operations, stolen car rings, trafficking in human beings, human smuggling, and narcotics/tobacco trafficking,” according to the US State Department.

Interpol says Hungary’s landlocked location in central Europe, bordered by seven other countries, makes it “attractive” to organised crime networks trafficking drugs and people.

Turkey

Turkey ranked one lower at 81st.

It is a important point on drug supply routes into Europe, with large shipments often broken down into smaller parcels for distribution in Turkey.

Turkish trafficking groups have “emerged as players” in cocaine supplies for the European market in recent years. A significant amount of global drug seizures are in Turkey.

It is also a key point for people smuggling into the EU, particularly from Asia and Somalia, according to the UN.

Slovakia

Slovakia ranked 86th. It is one of the main producers of methaphetamine.

Its organised crime groups are involved in trafficking drugs, people, cigarettes and arms, as well as high levels of car theft, according to the US State Department.

Italy

Italy ranked much lower down at 117th, making it the 25th worst country.

“Since their appearance in the 1800s, Italian organized crime groups, broadly known as the Italian Mafia, have infiltrated the social and economic fabric of Italy and have become transnational in nature,” according to the FBI.

Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Nostra, is particularly infamous, with some estimating it is the second largest organisation in Italy.

The FBI says it specialises in heroin and weapon trafficking and political corruption, and is well-known for its attacks on Italian law enforcement.

Mexico

The Mexican Army after cartel gunmen clashed with federal forces. Photo: Reuters

Mexico had the second worst score in the world in 140th place, with only El Salvador behind it.

The country’s problems with cartels, drugs and violence are well documented, and anger over corruption and state failure to resolve the issues helped propel a radical new president to power last year.

Drug-related violence cost 29,000 lives last year, according to Reuters, with homicides expected to beat last year’s record high.

International gangs involved in drugs and extortion have a reported 70,000 members, according to Reuters.