Profits generated by organized crime groups in Southeast Asia have reached “unprecedented” and “dangerous” levels amid expanded operations, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime warned on Thursday.
The methamphetamine market, part of the region's most-profitable illicit business of synthetic drugs, is now valued at up to $61.4 billion annually, said a report titled “Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact” and launched in Bangkok. This is due to criminal groups innovating their businesses and expanding the market.
The heroin market has at the same time contracted and is worth up to $10.3 billion per year, the report added.
“Organized crime groups are generating tens of billions of dollars in Southeast Asia from the crossborder trafficking and smuggling of illegal drugs and precursors, people, wildlife, timber and counterfeit goods,” said UNODC Regional Representative Jeremy Douglas.
The report also highlighted economic disparities that create both supply and demand for cheap labor, driving a growth in human trafficking and migrant smuggling, while rising incomes were causing an increase in demand for rare and endangered environmental products.
“As regional wildlife populations and forest reserves have come under pressure, supply chains have extended to Africa,” it said.-
The region is also a hub for the “high-profit, low-risk” counterfeit goods and medicines trade, which is estimated to be worth up to $35.9 billion per year.
UNODC said the “alarming” proliferation of falsified medicines was generating up to $2.6 million a year, causing serious public health and safety impacts and concerns, and changing disease patterns.
Recent law enforcement suppression efforts have also changed trafficking patterns and some criminal groups have “scaled up and migrated operations to locations with weak governance” such as border areas, while corruption and money laundering through casinos are “significant challenges” for the region.
“Southeast Asia has an organized crime problem, and it is time to coalesce around solutions to address the conditions that have allowed illicit businesses to grow, and to secure and cooperate along borders,” Douglas said.
Thailand’s former deputy prime minister described the situation as “concerning,” adding that crime syndicates were “taking advantage of Southeast Asia, and particularly of countries that struggle to respond.”
The report comes a week ahead of the 2019 ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, where the situation is set to be addressed.