Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office says that economic harm from organized crime has declined considerably. But the number of crimes remained constant, and criminals are always on the lookout for new opportunities.
The president of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), Holger Münch, had reason to be pleased when he presented his agency's report on organized crime in 2017 in Germany. At a press conference in Wiesbaden on Wednesday, Münch said that the economic damage resulting from organized crime plummeted from around €1 billion ($1.17 billion) in 2016 to €209 million ($244 million).
Part of that dramatic fall is due to the fact that 2016 was a statistical outlier. Economic damage from organized crime has been consistently falling in recent years and is now well under a third of what it was in 2013.
After an atypical rise in 2016, organized crime declined again in 2017
The figures suggest that while the number of organized crimes remains steady, criminals could be making less and less money from them.
"The conspicuous decrease in the damage amount comes from the fact that conspicuously fewer cases of organized crime involving large sums were reported," the BKA wrote. "For example in 2017, only three cases involving damage of more than 10 million euros were reported from areas normally involving high sums like property, tax and customs and economic crimes."
In total only twelve cases of organized crimes with a value of more than €10 million were recorded. Such numbers suggest that Germany is bucking the global trend, which has seen organized crime booming.
Cocaine drop-offs on the high seas
But not all of the figures are equally rosy. The number of organized-crime cases prosecuted went up slightly from 563 to 572, and some types of organized crime are on the rise. In particular the drug trade remains a major problem, representing more than 36 percent of organized crime in Germany.
Münch cited the example of cocaine smuggling. The BKA president said that organized criminals had begun dropping cocaine-filled waterproof containers, equipped with buoys and transponders, into the open ocean to be picked up by gangs in speedboats and brought to land. Last year, German authorities seized more than eight metric tons of cocaine, a new national record. By comparison 1.9 metric tons were confiscated in 2016.
Organized cybercrime became less frequent in Germany in 2017
Other common types of organized crime include breaking and entering — thieves stole a 100-kilogram gold coin worth €3.5 million from Berlin's Bode Museum, for instance — and human trafficking. Tax evasion also remains a major concern in the wake of the Panama Papers, with the BKA identifying 731 cases involving €4.6 million.
Somewhat surprisingly, the number of organized cybercrimes declined by 22.7 percent. Most of the offences committed in this area consisted of digital blackmail and attacks on online banking. Russian and Ukrainian suspects were particularly prominent in this sector.
Who commits organized crimes?
Overall the number of people suspected of organized crime was down, although there was a minimal rise in the number of foreigners thought to be involved. Münch said the BKA was monitoring the influx of large numbers of migrants in recent years for the potential formation of criminal organizations, as happened with refugees from the Balkans in the 1990s.
The latest statistics don't reveal any evidence of mafias forming among Syrian or Iraqi refugees. German citizens represented the largest group of suspects in organized crime cases, accounting for 28.4 percent of them.
They were followed by Lithuanians, Turks, Poles, Romanians and Italians. That illustrates the difficulty of pinning down organized crime to specific nationalities or groups.
"A defining characteristic of organized criminality is its transnationality," the BKA wrote. "Around 80 percent of organized-crime trials have international components."
As an example of international criminal networks, the BKA cited bands of Polish criminals who stole solar panels and electricity convertors from facilities in the eastern German state of Brandenburg. German and Polish police made 29 arrests in conjunction with these crimes, and instances of solar-panel theft fell from around 60 in 2015-2016 to three in 2017.