Malta a ‘transit point’ for weapons trafficking from Southern Europe to North Africa

Global Organised Crime Index report says Libyan revolution provided opportunities for criminals to escalate and internationalise their illegal enterprises across the Mediterranean, including Malta

Weapons confiscated from members of the mafia clan Ceusi, affiliated to the criminal group Cosa Nostra in 2016
Weapons confiscated from members of the mafia clan Ceusi, affiliated to the criminal group Cosa Nostra in 2016

Malta is a transit point for the trafficking of weapons from Italy to Egypt by organised crime groups, according to the Global Organised Crime Index report.  

The illicit firearms trade is influenced by Italian mafia groups that reportedly smuggle arms from Southern Italy to North Africa. The report states Maltese or Malta-based smugglers with maritime assets are also involved in the smuggling of arms between Libya and Turkey, as well as between Libya and Montenegro. 

The Global Organized Crime Index is a multi-dimensional tool that assesses the level of criminality and resilience to organized crime for 193 countries along three key pillars – criminal markets, criminal actors, and resilience. 

Developed over a two-year period, the Index draws from both quantitative and qualitative sources and is underpinned by over 350 expert assessments and evaluations.  

Malta is ranked 109th out of 193 countries, 19th out of 48 European countries, and 4th out of 8 Southern European countries in terms of its criminal situation. A higher score indicates a more favourable crime situation within a country. 

Turkey tops Europe’s organised crime index, ranking 14th globally, while Denmark was one of the best performing European countries, ranking 161st globally.  

Malta remains a destination and transit country for human trafficking. Foreign nationals are trafficked for reasons of sexual exploitation or forced labour in industries such as domestic service, massage parlours, nightclubs, construction, and hospitality, according to the report.  

Victims of sexual exploitation normally are Eastern European women, while men 

from various regions including China and Southeast Asia, increasingly the Philippines, have been identified as victims of forced labour. 

The report also states that asylum seekers are subject to exploitation in the underground labour market, with both locals and co-nationals known to participate in such exploitation.  

Cocaine seized at Malta Freeport which was being transported in a container carrying bananas in 2022
Cocaine seized at Malta Freeport which was being transported in a container carrying bananas in 2022

On drug trafficking, the report states Malta is a destination country for synthetic drugs such as ecstasy (MDMA) and amphetamines, which are imported from other European 

countries, primarily Italy and the Netherlands.  

The Sicily–Malta route has been identified as the primary source of drugs being smuggled into Malta, with foreign and local actors involved in the trade. 

Cocaine remains the most prevalent drug seized in Malta, with consumption increasing and the price per gram decreasing. 

Malta is both a destination and transit country for cocaine, with the substance most smuggled through Spain and from South America. Maltese smugglers also coordinate with Libyan criminal actors to traffic cocaine to that region.

Threats and violence  

The report states threats and public violence are related to blackmail and extortion. 

“Although organized cases of extortion and protection racketeering are reported to be limited in the country, recently the Italian police uncovered and dismantled a massive mafia ring linked to the ‘Ndrangheta, which collaborated with individuals in Malta in the trafficking of stolen vehicles by means of extortion, kidnapping, bribery, and possession of weapons,” the report states.  

Malta has also experienced a rise of criminal gangs that utilize violence as part of their illegal activities, “and although they do not fit the traditional mafia-style mould, they still pose a considerable threat.” 

“Over the past decade, there have been a series of gangland style assassinations in Malta, and there is a danger that organized crime groups could infiltrate the country from abroad and become established,” the report reads.  

The Libyan revolution also provided opportunities for criminals to escalate and internationalise their illegal enterprises, forging stronger connections between organized criminal actors in Malta, Libya, Italy, and the Balkans.  

“Malta is home to various criminal networks, including loose domestic organization engaged in fuel smuggling, illegal fishing, human trafficking, money laundering, drug trafficking, illegal gambling, and assassinations, acting on their own or in collaboration with foreign groups,” the report reads.

Corruption and press freedom  

The report states that several illegal activities are facilitated by corruption and poor oversight. Such criminal activities include smuggling, illegal tuna fishing, awarding of public contracts, money laundering and organised crime.  

It also states that a number of corruption scandals in the Maltese public sector and the vulnerability to organized crime of Malta’s state, political and executive branches, law enforcement, and judiciary is believed to be high. 

“In recent years, instances of state capture and infiltration by criminal groups have raised international concerns about how police activities have been hindered by high-level officials concealing connections between the government and organized crime,” the report reads.  

It also outlines how the country’s party financing system allows for the corruption and bribery of politicians by the private sector, with the most evidence of infiltration by organized crime in the gambling industry, including online gaming websites. 

Apart from corruption, the report points out there are no units specifically focused on organized crime. “While the criminal justice system has been criticized for depending on the police to initiate criminal proceedings against corruption defendants, the recent creation of a new prosecutions office could present an opportunity for improvement.” 

The safety of journalists, press freedom, and access to information continue to be problematic issues in Malta, especially in the wake of the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the report states. 

The index was drawn up by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime based in Switzerland with affiliates in different countries.