Europol report reveals Italian, Georgian criminal networks operating in Malta

From drug trafficking to property crime, Italian mafia and Georgian criminal networks are some of the most dangerous crime groups in Europe with a presence in Malta

Europol mapped the characteristics that make criminal actors particularly threatening
Europol mapped the characteristics that make criminal actors particularly threatening

Italian mafia-style and Georgian homogenous criminal networks are some of the most dangerous crime groups with a presence in Malta, according to a new Europol report.

The comprehensive report from European law enforcement agencies has shed light on the growing presence of international criminal networks in the European Union, including Malta.

The findings show that Italian mafia-style syndicates and Georgian homogenous criminal groups have a presence in Malta, with the criminal activities ranging from drug trafficking to organised property crime.

Italian mafia-style organisations, traditionally associated with Italian leadership, have significantly expanded their operations beyond Italy, infiltrating more than 45 countries worldwide. Within the EU, these organisations have a broad reach, mainly in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Malta, Romania and Spain.

These Italian criminal networks also have a presence beyond Europe, particularly in Colombia, Switzerland and the United States. Their main activities are drug trafficking of cocaine, cannabis and heroin; extortion and racketeering, waste trafficking, tobacco excise fraud and money laundering.

Georgian homogenous criminal networks have also expanded into Malta as part of their organised property crime operations, specialising in burglaries and robberies. This criminal activity is part of a broader trend affecting other European countries such as Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Spain.

Malta stands out as one of the most affected countries by property crimes committed by these international networks, alongside France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. The criminal groups identified within these networks operate as clan or family-based mobile organized crime groups (MOCGs) or Thieves in Law, exercising complete control over their illicit enterprises.

The composition of these criminal networks reflects a diverse mix of nationalities, with Croatian, Georgian, Italian, and Romanian individuals playing pivotal roles. Leaders and scouts within these networks are instrumental in orchestrating criminal activities, exploiting vulnerabilities, and expanding criminal influence within Malta and beyond.

In addition to traditional property crimes, these networks engage in human trafficking and drug distribution, perpetuating cycles of exploitation and victimisation. Apart from the group leaders, scouters play a critical role in identifying targets, coordinating operations, and evading law enforcement detection.

How Europol mapped out the crime groups

The report, titled Decoding The EU’s Most Threatening Criminal Networks, is the first of its kind to map the characteristics that make criminal actors particularly threatening.

After identifying the most threatening criminal networks, the groups’ characteristics were outlined and assessed. Then, Europol was able to determine the key traits that allow these networks to thrive, namely agility, borderless, controlling, and destructive.

Europe’s most threatening criminal networks were found to be remarkably agile, using legal business structures to facilitate or conceal their criminal activity. In fact, 86% of these networks make use of legal business structures (LBS), either by infiltrating businesses at a high level or by setting up their own. The sectors most vulnerable to infiltration by organised crime were identified as construction, hospitality and logistics.

These networks also run borderless criminal operations and have been able to extend beyond the EU. There are 112 nationalities represented among the members of the 821 criminal networks identified, and only 32% of networks have members from only one country.

The networks can exert strong control and focus over their operations, with the leadership of 82% of the most threatening criminal networks settled either in the main country of activity or the country of origin of the key members. Only 6% of the most threatening networks have a leadership coordinating operations from outside the EU.

Most dangerously, these networks inflict significant damage on the EU’s internal security, rule of law, and economy. Their activities directly impact EU citizens’ lives, for example through increased drug-related violence, or turf wars on the streets of EU cities.

According to Europol, 71% of these networks engage in corruption to facilitate criminal activity or obstruct law enforcement or judicial proceedings.

Moreover, 68% of networks use violence and intimidation as an inherent feature of their modus operandi.