OCCRP Weekly News Roundup

Google’s Latest Search: Organized Crime

Internet giant Google wants to help fight illicit networks.

Google Ideas, the company’s think take, has launched a campaign to counter the secrecy and impunity of drug cartels, cyber-criminals, human traffickers, arms traffickers and organ harvesters, according to the Guardian.

The media corporation has joined forces with the Council of Foreign Relations, Interpol and other groups to devise ways of using technology to solve problems related to organized crime.

In an op-ed article in the Washington Post, Google’s chairman Eric Shmidt and Google Ideas director Jared Cohen recounted a recent trip to the troubled city of Juarez, Mexico, and how they believe the internet can intermediate the exchange of information between individuals and groups that want to help but fear retribution.

“Technology is just a tool. The residents of Juarez told us they desperately want technologies that, when used in the right way by the right people, would make a difference. There will be real consequences of trial and error, but we cannot let fear prevent us from innovating. In a world where cartels and criminals are masters of innovation, technology companies can tip the scales over the long run, helping to provide an innovation advantage to those who need it most.”

On Tuesday, the campaign kicked off with a summit in Los Angeles called “Illicit Networks: Forces in Opposition.” The conference brought together technology experts, politicians, victims and individuals in law enforcement to conceive strategies to disrupt networks of organized crime.


Romanian Political Tit for Tat Recap and Developments

In the wake of the EU’s rather unflattering report on Romania released Wednesday, it is worth revisiting the political chaos that has gripped the Romanian political system as Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s newly elected government clashes with sitting (albeit suspended pending a referendum) president Traian Basescu.

In the last month, to name a few, Ponta fired the speakers of both houses of parliament, fired the ombudsman, threatened Constitutional Court judges with impeachment and tried to limit the Constitutional Court’s power to review acts of Parliament.

A Washington Post editorial accused Ponta of “pressing to remove checks on his government while trying to force the country’s president from office.”

Adding fire to the intrigue, Adrian Nastase, a former PM and Ponta’s alleged mentor, shot himself in the neck in an apparent suicide attempt after receiving a two year sentence on charges of corruption. And on Friday, an ethics committee decided that Ponta plagiarized his 2003 PhD thesis.

“Elements of plagiarism were identified in 115 of the 297 pages,” according to the University of Bucharest Ethics Commission.

Ponta called the decision politically motivated.

Furthermore, Ponta’s ruling coalition is suing Basescu’s oppostion party for defaming the state, according to Agence France-Presse. Eugen Nicolaescu, a member of Ponta’s ruling USL party, said the opposition has "grossly manipulated public opinion and European and international bodies."

The referendum on President Basescu will take place July 29.


The Ukrainian Underground Railroad

Perhaps European criminals have taken a lesson from the drug cartels operating along the US and Mexican border.

Authorities have identified an underground tunnel running under the border of Slovakia and Ukraine built to smuggle contraband. Police said the tunnel -- over 700 meters long, complete with its own rail line—was primarily used to smuggle cigarettes into Slovakia, but probably trafficked humans as well.

Authorities seized approximately 2.6 million cigarettes. Peter Kazimir, Slovakia’s Finance Minister, said that if operating for a year, over 50 million Euros in excise taxes have been evaded.

On Thursday, the World Bank cut Ukraine’s economic growth forecast to 2.0 percent, “citing weaker demand for the former Soviet republic’s commodity exports from struggling European economies.”

It appears Europe’s struggling economies still want some Ukrainian exports, but not necessarily the taxes that go along with them.