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The Illicit Trade of Tobacco Products along the Balkan Route: Addressing Institutional Gaps and Corruption

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The Center for the Study of Democracy launched the initiative The illicit trade of tobacco products along the Balkan route: addressing institutional gaps and corruption.

The Balkans have long been a key route for various illicit goods and flows – drugs, firearms, human trafficking and human smuggling, etc. Since 2000 Greece became a key entry point and a source of ‘illicit white’ cigarettes. Upon entering Greece, the ‘illicit whites’ were further trafficked either to Italy and Western Europe or through Bulgaria and Romania to Central European markets. This was the onset of a resilient and hard to curb transnational criminal infrastructure. Apart from that Bulgarian organized crime is extensively involved in setting up clandestine factories for production of ‘counterfeited’ or ‘illicit white’ brands in various countries across the EU. Furthermore Bulgaria, Italy, Greece and Romania are the four top-ranking in the EU in terms of levels of perceived corruption according to the Control of Corruption indicator of the World Governance Indictors (WB, 2014), as well as according to the most recent Corruption Perception Index (Transparency International, 2016).

Against this background, the current initiative aims are threefold: 1) to bring to light the institutional gaps impeding the effective response to the illicit trade of tobacco products and propose a method for evaluating institution’s performance at regional level; 2) to examine the role of corruption as crime enabling factor for illicit trade of tobacco products, as well as suggest a method to assess it on regional level; 3) to advocate for more effective, evidence-based legislative and policy actions, and to put pressure on the relevant authorities in Bulgaria, Italy, Greece and Romania to step up their efforts to curb these organised crime activities and related corruption.

The research initiative The illicit trade of tobacco products along the Balkan route: addressing institutional gaps and corruption is led by CSD group and is among the 32 projects, selected from more than 200 proposals in the first funding round of PMI IMPACT – a global initiative dedicated to support fight against illicit trade and related crimes. The research team involves experts from Bulgaria (CSD), Italy (Intellegit), Romania (SCE), as well as three independent criminology researchers from Greece. Over the next two years, the project will elaborate tools for performance evaluation and corruption risk assessment of law enforcement and revenue authorities with regards to illegal tobacco trade.

Atanas Rusev
Project manager
Security Program, Center for the Study of Democracy 

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