A new report warns that the illegal exploitation and taxation of gold, oil and other natural resources is overtaking traditional sources of threat finance, such as kidnapping for ransom and drug trafficking, which fund terrorist and militant groups. The World Atlas of Illicit Flows, compiled by Interpol, RHIPTO – a Norwegian UN-collaborating centre – and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime provides the first consolidated global overview of their significance in conflicts worldwide.
Of the US$31.5 billion in illicit flows generated annually in conflict areas, 96% goes to organised criminal groups, with this money helping to fuel violent conflict. Based on public reports and criminal intelligence, The World Atlas of Illicit Flows identifies more than 1,000 routes used for smuggling and other illicit flows.
The illicit exploitation of natural/environmental resources, such as gold, minerals, diamonds, timber, oil, charcoal and wildlife is the single-largest overall category of threat finance to conflicts today, estimated to command a 38% share of illicit flows to armed groups in conflict.
When incomes from these natural resources are combined with their illicit taxation and extortion (26%) by the same non-state armed groups, the figure becomes as high as 64%. The overall figures are as follows:
*38%: Environmental crime, including the illegal exploitation of oil, minerals and gold
*26%: Illegal taxation, extortion, confiscation and looting
*3%: External donations
*3%: Money extorted through kidnapping for ransom
“The huge volume of illicit money being generated through the exploitation of natural resources is of great concern,” said Jürgen Stock, Interpol’s Secretary General. “Criminal networks and their activities fuel violent conflict which, in turn, undermines the rule of law. The The World Atlas of Illicit Flows provides a new impetus for our continued efforts to stem the tide and combat the threat transnational organised crime poses to peace, development and security.”
Christian Nellemann, head of the RHIPTO Centre, added: “Combating organised crime must be considered a significant factor in conflict prevention and resolution if we’re to become successful in securing peace. In many instances, criminal groups, some of them closely connected to political elites, may have a vested interest in renewed and continued armed struggle to ensure their dominance over natural resources and trade routes.”
Responding to criminal flows and markets
Of 1,113 United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions passed between 2000 and 2017, 35% mention forms of crime and, in each of the last five years, more than 60% of the UNSC resolutions have mandated a response to criminal flows and markets.
“Organised crime is increasingly undermining peace, security and development,” asserted Mark Shaw, director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime. “It has become a global phenomenon, represented in a confluence of conflicts from Africa to the Middle East and the Americas, and showing a distinct linkage to the response to international terrorism.”
Strengthening enforcement, information sharing and analysis is essential in order to prevent, disrupt and defeat violent armed groups and the organised criminal actors who create an environment of impunity and instability.
For the seven main extremist groups of insurgents and terrorists, the combined funding totals about US$1–1.39 billion per annum. Illicit smuggling may also include trans-shipments in violation of UN Sanctions.
In 2017, some 40,000 members of the Taliban received an estimated income of US$75-95 million from taxation – particularly of drugs, land and agricultural produce – and from donations from abroad. In mid-2017, ISIS/Daesh made an estimated US$10 million per month. This figure is 98% down from its high of US$549-1,693 million in 2014. In all likelihood, the group has considerable reserves of an unknown size.
The merged Al-Qaeda groups HTS in Syria and JNIM in the Sahel make an estimated US$18-35 million and US$5-35 million respectively from illegal taxation, donations, kidnapping for ransom, extortion, the smuggling of counterfeit cigarettes, drugs and illegal taxation.
Al-Shabaab receives an estimated US$20 million, with half of that sum emanating from the illicit charcoal trade and the rest from other forms of taxation.
Boko Haram made an estimated US$5-10 million, mainly from taxation, bank robberies, donations from other terrorist groups and acts of kidnapping for ransom.