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The Rise of Organised Crime in Spain

by Juan José Santos Prieto
With the potential to have more of an impact than terrorism, organised crime is arguably the biggest threat for national security right now in Spain, and perhaps other parts of Europe. Such a statement is based on criminal reports made by police authorities and justice administrations. This article explains the current situation of Spanish organised crime and mafia groups. To accomplish this, this article tackles descriptive features, operational organization and financing. In addition, the analysis spans from the end of the last century to the present day. This article is a conclusion devised from mass media and official sources (Spanish Interior Ministry, police authorities).
Brief description of Spanish Mafia groups
Spanish Mafias are not exclusively Spanish. This group of criminals is composed of people from many other nationalities. Such countries include Morocco, African countries (mainly Niger and Nigeria), European countries (like UK, Romania or France), South-American and Central-American (some come from Venezuela, Cuba or Puerto Rico). Russian and Chinese criminals also operate in Spain but seem to have a very low signature. This situation is explained by the unique geographical position of Spain, easy transport links and the stabilization of the country from economic and social perspectives.
Since 2000 organised crime numbers in Spain have increased significantly due to increasing profitability allowing original groups of few members to expand and admit new recruits.
Areas of crime
Organised Criminal gangs encompass a wide variety of activities. Those depend on the kind of people who rule those organizations and the mindset of their country of origin. The type of activities determines the way this groups operate and conducts business.
Fundamentally, the most common activities in the country are drug and human smuggling, followed by sexual exploitation and robbery. There are other less common criminal activities, but many of them are supportive businesses for core operations, such as reselling of stolen property or money laundering. We will go back to this issue.
Marketing, operations and logistics
These functions condition the way the organization behaves. The main goal of any business organization is creating value, so theory tells us that such organizations search for the perfect combination of resources and procedures to add the maximum value to their products and maximise their profit. Mafias are no different in such aspects.
Any criminal production line comprehends the tasks of purchases, production, transport, sales, accounting and marketing. Regardless if the product is sex, drugs, weapons or any other illegal merchandise. These production lines can be catered by one or more criminal groups. The more groups cover the value chain till the final consumer, more specialised the companies which intervene are. Specialization is the first step to better results and better profits.
Most Mafia organisations operating in Spain have covered, in recent years, the whole production line when it comes to pimping and smuggling of narcotics or counterfeited goods. Money laundering and drug trafficking have much more complex lines of production. Multiple organisations are involved in each step of the process especially in the case of international drug trafficking. The current tendency is specialization of specific areas such as cultivating, manufacturing or distributing. The last companies dismantled by authorities tend to cover only a part of the production line.
Companies operate in purchases, production, transport, sales, accounting and marketing in the following ways:
Materials the companies need for production could be legal or illegal. For example, illegal plantations need fertilizers, irrigation systems or equipment, all of them can be obtained through legal means. However, some materials have to be obtained illicitly. The kind of method the organizations use depends on the market. The narcotics market has one of most âspectacularâ ways to obtain their wares. In this case, along the coast, narcotics are obtained from bundles which are thrown from speedboats and ships in motion. Narcotics are also smuggled through airports by mules. Certain groups specialise in the delivery using speedboats and jet-skies. Organizations specialising in pimping make their victims pass through airports as regular citizens or use the means of the illegal immigration to cater their needs. Counterfeited goods are provided on trucks. Payments are made in cash and depending the deal with the provider, those are made immediately or at a later date.
Regarding production, except for drugs such as cannabis, very little is produced in Spain. In this country, marijuana plantations are popular. They are followed by post-production laboratories, where cocaine is adulterated, and the production of forged documentation. For these processes, criminal groups obtain stealth properties in regular flats and warehouses. All the installation is made indoors. Safety measures have been spotted, such as safety doors or CCTV.
Transport of victims and illegal ware is made in cars and trucks. Many times, these vehicles have hidden compartments. Spanish criminal organizations export their services, goods and victims to the internal Spanish and European markets. This is true especially when we talk about drugs. Spain supplies Spanish, British, German and East-European markets with cocaine and marijuana. Several organizations have been dismantled in recent months with these supply chains. Prostitutes are placed in Spain and France, and are also distributed to other destinations.
The process of selling is made directly to the next link of the value chain. It is made at the end of the transport to the client (not necessarily the final consumer). The payment is received in cash frequently.
The accounting of those organizations is pretty more complicated than in the case of legal business. As any business, they have to maintain a record of the payments made and received, but in addition they have to hide or justify to authorities their profits. In the case of hiding the goods, jewellery is quite popular. However, in general, criminals are not good at hiding their earnings, and tend to spend their wealth in luxury cars and flats. If they fail to provide an explanation of the origin of the money obtained to pay those goods, police could open an investigation, and in fact this is the starting point of many police investigations. This topic is further discussed in financing section.
Incidentally the marketing efforts of such groups is little seen. However, they apply the four âpâs of marketing (product, price, promotion and place). In the case of drug-trafficking organizations, they strengthen a products protency, and some do take care of production, for example, marijuana plantations. Whereas pimping looks for product and promotion and caters from high class prostitution to lower scale curb crawlers. Counterfeited goods position itself with place, promotion and price but leaves behind product. Other business, like counterfeited documentation, have to keep up with the market standards, so, product is essential.
Management structure
The structure of such entities vary. We are going to consider two factors: control and adaptability. The more control you desire, the less adaptability you are able to gain, and vice versa. Organised crime serves itself mainly with a pyramidal structure, u-form, multidivisional structure, net structure and matrix structure as well. Now we are going to explain those models and contextualise them.
Pyramidal structure. It aims control as the main factor. The organization is divided into several levels and each level has its heads. On the top, there is a head or a group or people that runs the structure. All the members respond to âthe bossâ or the heads of the mafia. This is not a production structure, as is quite often seen in organizations specialising in activities that donât require much elaboration. This can be combined with U-form and a multidivisional model. For instance, extortion or pimping. It is also commonly used by mafias which come from eastern countries, where societies are strongly militarized. It is a way to maintain discipline. The problem with this organization model is once the head is cut off, subordinates have serious problems to establish their normal activity as a group. Besides, the adaptation span is the longest among these types of organization.
U-form. This is the most basic productive organization model. As I mentioned previously, this model can be combined with the previous model. This model divides the structure into departments, each department deals with an aspect of the âbusinessâ, just for example: accounting, operations, logistics, marketing. On top of the departments there is a head. This head is responsible to coordinate all the departments. It presents the same vulnerabilities that pyramidal model, the un-affordable effects of losing the head and the lack of adaptability.
Multidivisional model. This model divides the organization into division and each division, into departments. Each division has all the departments needed to produce. All divisions have a head, and all heads answers to the main head. This model is present in those mafias large enough and with international presence. Italian mafia, which have a little representation in this country, is a perfect example of this kind of management. The problems with these structures are like the two previous ones.
Matrix model. This model is quite similar to the U-form model, but with the difference that each department is divided by products. Several departments deal with a line of production. Just for example: accounting department gathers information about pimping and extortion; marketing does the same; and so forth. This model provides to U-form with extra flexibility, but maintains the control of each of their sections. This model can be observed in some very specialised drug-trafficking organizations. This model requires certain level of mastery to be deployed. The downside of this is the complexity of planning and building it up. But the powerful advantage is the capability to adapt the operation. The head of the entity does not need to maintain a deep control over the activity.
Lastly, net organization. This model is based on the idea of âequalityâ. The organization is divided into groups, or cells, each group cooperates with the others. In that respect two kind of networks can be deployed. Each group could depend on the others, or on the contrary, they are independent. This kind of organization is quite typical of terrorist groups, but is also seen in organised crime. It is used in smuggling organizations. In Spain, Moroccans and Spaniards who make profit from passing through the border use this model.
Most Spanish criminal organisations use simple structures like U-forms and net structures. The most complex structures are carried out by drug-trafficking organizations, those are organised under multidivisional and matrix models.
Human resources
The kind of people who get involved in such activities vary. Their origin, culture, personality, status and educational level differ. Anyway, there are some common factors in their personalities, which we will cover throughout this section.
Regarding origin, a high ratio of them are Spanish nationals, who make a living from a wide variety of activities, but one of most popular is drug-smuggling. Moroccans share the drug business with Spaniards, and share a great portion of criminal activity. Another huge group of people come from Eastern-European countries. Nigerians and sub-Saharan citizens deserve a specific mention as well. They are responsible for most part of the sexual exploitation of women from Africa. Finally, the smallest group of citizens involved in criminal activities have western European nationalities. Among them, British are the largest represented, followed by people from Netherlands, Belgium or France, and lastly Germany.
When it comes to personality, most of them donât share the same characteristics. However, it is true that those features determine the type of criminal activities and the way they get involved with it. The common psychological characteristics are a high tolerance for risk, predisposition for violence, the belief that all of those bad things that happened to them are not related to their actions, and high tendency to live in the present. All of those arguments back the findings of weaponry, drugs, luxury properties and so forth.
Education is not a determining factor, but it leads the way the crimes are committed, the role individuals plays in the criminal organizations and the type of crimes they are involved in. In general terms we must acknowledge that those who have higher education tend to deploy more sophisticated crimes and they are less âmaterialâ (that is what we call white-collar crimes).
From an operational perspective, people who are involved in such activities are caught up in circles of confidence. Many of them are relatives of other members. In such sense, when organizations are organized by parental relations, we call them clans. The presence of clans in Spain is abundant. This kind of organization is quite frequent among Spanish organizations, and less common among foreigners. Most areas of foreign organizations are organized by trustworthiness, and their links are based on friendship relations or the specific charisma or skills of the person. The way they are organised determines the way they operate, and the payments made in concept of payroll. The flatter the organization, the more equal the salary is.
Most money handled is in cash. This cash is used to cover up the purchases and payments to maintain their activity. When large quantities of money is earned, mafias tend to launder it. They can do this themselves or they can outsource the process. In regard of this process, there has been a shift.
Spain always has been a country of smuggling. This was so because the unique orography and geographical position. This momentum was hardened during the centuries because of war and economic decline. During the beginning of the 20th century, poltical problems and internal conflict led Spain to economic stagnation. After the Spanish civil war, Francisco Franco raised himself as dictator of Spain. He punished severely any attempt of organized crime. It was not till his death when mafias (then) started to thrive again.
At the beginning, mafias were not very sophisticated and their range of activities included smuggling, prostitution and little more. With the opening of borders, foreigners brought their techniques and mafias started to earn more and more money. Mafias recently began earning enough income to consider laundering their money. Such is the popularity of money laundering, that there are criminal organizations specialised in doing that. As an indicator, in the span of the last six months at least three organizations of this type has been dismantled by Spanish authorities. Considering that each organization must have a portfolio big enough to allow the group to make their living, we could figure out that from 12 to 60 mafias have resorted to these services in the last year.
The most sophisticated criminal organizations launder their money. They have accounts in tax havens and through a network of enterprises can justify their expenses. However, since the Inland Revenue have more resources to detect illegal business groups, many mafias are being forced to change the strategy.
Once the money is in havens, it is time to spend it. Depending on the criminal groups, money is just destined to personal expenditures, investment in new resources or dedicated to other aims. On average, most part of organised criminals tend to allocate their personal profits to purchase luxury-quality goods. Iâve observed a tendency of many criminals to buy homes near shore areas, many of them also have properties in well located cities and towns. Many police raids ends with the seizure of one or more luxury vehicles as well.
The most thoughtful criminals invest part of the earnings in improving their resources. Which is right now a clear tendency among those. Besides, they know that the more they show off their prosperity, the more chances to be caught there will be.
Insights, prospects and conclusions
Over all things, the reader should keep in mind that Spanish organised crime, in fact, is not only Spanish it is shared by entities of other parts of the world.
Firstly, the lack of experience of our nationals is made up by the experience brought by foreigners. Spaniards are doing their job and they are reaching the same level of sophistication as criminals in other parts of the world. Foreigners brought the know-how required to settle entire control chains, planning, financing and so forth.
Secondly, income is growing because the growth of experience and expertise, providing mafias with more resources to expand. Mafias are better associated, better equipped and better organised, making the labour of the law and enforcement harder than ever.
Thirdly, the secret to criminal activity in Spain thriving is diversification. In Spain, there are enough resources and a favourable legal framework to do so. On the other hand, Spanish criminals have no inherited traditions in their business, they compete with the rest of the mafias in the same markets, except for prostitution. In that segment, Spaniards are a minority.
Fourthly, technology and globalization force legal and illegal businesses to sophisticate their procedures.
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