A casual conversation?
How wire-tapping records led to the birth of a new UK crime agency.
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Organised crime is a growing threat to national and international security. Crime doesn’t respect national laws, borders or interests: hard to quantify, the costs to the British economy are thought to stand at more than £24bn per annum. One Oxford academic has revealed the structure of Russian Mafia groups, throwing new light on the murky underworld, and changing the UK’s approach to transnational crime.
Federico Varese is a Professor of Criminology at the Department of Sociology. Through his research he discovered transcripts of wiretaps recorded for an Italian investigation into Russian mafia activity. Many revealed everyday conversations, but hidden within them, and highlighted through Varese’s quantitative analysis, was the structure of the organisation itself. Varese was able to show that the organisation was a well-developed hierarchy, with an internal division of labour, which showed a flair for exploiting new opportunities. Most importantly, Varese’s research showed how an organised crime group operates successfully across borders to take advantage of unregulated markets and to maximise profit-making potential. The law enforcement world needed to change: neither local nor international policing alone could stop organised crime. Varese’s research showed that success would lie in a combination of the two, with far reaching powers grounded in local investigations. A collaborative response was required.
Professor Varese's work is the most up-to-date and scrupulous analysis of Russian Mafia activity in Europe
- Italian Member of Parliament
His work received immediate international attention. In the UK he was one of only two academics to be invited to sit on the Strategic Review Group of Serious Organised Crime. His recommendations, reflecting the need for a more international and collaborative approach to policing and preventing organised crime, led to structural changes in the UK crime fighting system. In Italy, his research was cited in proceedings to remove a Member of Parliament’s immunity from criminal prosecution. In Canada, his analysis influenced the government’s review on migration and organised crime. In 2014, his work was cited in a sentence by the European Court of Human Rights.
As a result of the Review, the National Crime Agency (NCA) came into being in October 2013. It leads the UK fight against serious organised crime and works with national and international partners to investigate and prosecute criminals. They facilitate cooperation between UK and other law enforcement agencies, such as INTERPOL, Europol and SIRENE, which supports cooperation and coordination between law enforcement agencies in the EU member states. Whilst international cooperation has long been a feature of UK law enforcement, Varese’s research has helped embed these tactics in practice.
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