Drug trafficking organizations in Colombia and Mexico are reportedly using the criminal franchise model to traffic cocaine into Europe, replicating a strategy commonly used to smuggle drugs through Latin America.
In a recent report, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and Europol said that the number of criminal organizations involved in cocaine trafficking in Europe has increased, with Colombian, Italian, Dutch, British and Spanish organized crime groups all playing a role.
“We are confronting a new era,” Rob Wainright, director of Europol, told Mexican newspaper El Universal.
According to Wainright, Mexican and Colombian groups are adapting to the fragmentation of organized crime in Europe by implementing a franchise model. This entails selling the “brand of the criminal enterprise” as well as the “operating license” — which includes access to drugs without intermediaries, connections with diverse contacts and methods to facilitate the transport of cocaine — to local organized crime groups.
“This is the new commercial model in Europe and we think that the Mexican and Colombian groups are adapting to it, seeking out established collaborators in Europe,” he said.
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Colombian and Italian groups continue to dominate the European retail market, although West African, especially Nigerian, groups are also active in transporting cocaine from Africa to Europe.
“Nigerian groups, in particular…are now on par with Latin American groups in their ability to source, finance and transport bulk quantities of cocaine from Latin America to Africa, Europe and elsewhere,” the report states.
InSight Crime Analysis
It is unsurprising that Mexican and Colombian groups are adapting the criminal franchise model to the European market, since this system is frequently utilized in Latin America.
In Mexico, due in part to increased government crackdowns against large, hierarchical cartels, some criminal groups have moved to a franchise model, with independent operators paying for the right to use the brand name of established organizations such as that of the feared Zetas gang. Meanwhile the country’s most powerful drug trafficking organization, the Sinaloa Cartel, is better understood as a “federation” of various groups rather than a tightly knit organization.
Colombia has also seen the fragmentation and franchising of criminal groups. The Urabeños, the only organized crime group left in Colombia that maintains a national reach, are a good example of this. The organization is made up of multiple smaller groups or nodes, dedicated to a wide range of criminal activities. Those who make up the central command often do not have direct control over these smaller groups who are renting out the Urabeños name.