The new criminal powers
The spread of illicit links to politics across the world and how it can be tackled
Ivan Briscoe & Pamela Kalkman
January 2016


The most recent manifestations of organized crime in countries as diverse as Ukraine, Mali or Guatemala reveal how the phenomenon has become a systemic part of governance: a constant resource for politicians and officials, which in certain circumstances can trigger mass public discontent and even political instability. In order to understand the risks of this criminal influence, and how they might be addressed, the paper explores how illicit activity has become progressively more embedded in societies and in states, neutering efforts to coordinate international campaigns against corruption and crime. It traces the routes through which democratic politicians have sought to take advantage of crime; and vice versa, the ways in which criminal actors have captured parts of the state or targeted lucrative public sector transactions for financial gain. Through this active complicity on both sides, illicit activity has been able to merge with a fast-evolving international system of financial and legal transactions. The paper concludes by suggesting a number of strategic areas for future policy responses, including civil society engagement, firmer regulation of democratic politics, more context-ready judicial responses and broader reforms to the multilateral system.


The authors would like to thank Steven Schoofs and Mariska van Beijnum for their valuable comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

About the authors

Ivan Briscoe is a Senior Research Fellow at the Conflict Research Unit of Clingendael. At the CRU he specializes in the political economy of post-conflict countries and analysis of organized crime.

Pamela Kalkman is an investigative journalist based in Amsterdam. She previously worked as a project assistant at the Conflict Research Unit of Clingendael.

Cover photo

RCD out (Tunisia).

© Gladys Martínez López, Flickr/ Creative Commons, February 2011.