Europol says drug trade is Europe's biggest problem

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An estimated 3,600 organised crime gangs are active in Europe, the continent's policing agency revealed on Tuesday, mainly trading in illegal drugs including supplying some 124 tonnes of cocaine annually.

"International drug trafficking remains the most active organised crime activity," Europol said in a statement as it released its "Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment" report from its headquarters in The Hague.

Around 30 percent, or 1,080, of criminal groups were involved in drug trafficking to the continent, but other crimes linked to the ongoing economic crisis and the Internet were also on the rise, Europol said.

Cannabis was the most popular drug in Europe with 23 million users smoking an estimated 1,300 tonnes of cannabis resin and 1,200 tonnes of herbal cannabis every year.

Cocaine remained second-most popular, with an estimated four million users consuming 124 tonnes of powder every year, Europol said.

The 46-page report -- which Europol said was its most detailed study ever into organised crime -- warned of a new breed of criminal gang on the rise, spurred on by the eurozone crisis and online activity.

"These groups are no longer defined by their nationality or specialisation in one area of crime but by an ability to operate on an international basis, with a business-like focus on maximising profit and minimising risk," Europol's chief Rob Wainwright said.

"They are the epitome of our new globalised society," he said.

The economic crisis has seen gangs shifting their activities from counterfeiting luxury items to daily consumer goods including food, detergents, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

It has also given rise to increased human trafficking as "growing demand for cheap products and services stimulates the expansion of a shadow economy in which migrant labour is exploited".

Wainwright warned that cost-cutting as a result of the cash crunch, especially when it came to law enforcement, will allow organised crime groups to operate more easily and remain undetected for longer.

Europol's latest report will be sent to its 27-member states to help it define crime-fighting priorities in the coming four years, the organisation said.

© 2013 AFP

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