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Reviewed by:
  • Critical Reflections on Transnational Organized Crime, Money Laundering and Corruption
  • Maurice Punch (bio)
Margaret Beare , ed, Critical Reflections on Transnational Organized Crime, Money Laundering and Corruption. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003, 354 pp.

This collection of papers covers transnational organized crime (hereafter "TOC"), money laundering and corruption and examines the discourse and concepts, policies and laws, enforcement responses, specific illegal industries, the illegal activity of legitimate corporations, the corruption of officials and the sorts of criminals involved. The wide-ranging material is viewed through the lenses of "critical" Criminology.

The book is interesting, valuable and convincing. In a nutshell it argues the following: the discourse in this area distorts and blurs the real nature of the organization of the crimes by making them appear to be global threats to western security; this fosters war-like campaigns, punitive laws and a burgeoning prison population; a major driving force is the imperialist self-interest of the United States; and the latter manifests itself in the militarization of enforcement and also its privatization to evade political scrutiny. The result is injustice, abuse of human rights and the evasion of accountability.

This may seem like "round up the usual suspects," or "America done it," but the tone is not one of shrill denunciation but of measured, well-presented argument. It may be that such a collection falls outside of mainstream Criminology, and that many of the insights and findings are open to interpretation, but much of the material is well-researched and convincing. For instance, Beare shows that the Canadian tobacco industry massively expanded cigarette production for export to feed the thriving smuggling industry from the US into Canada; she calls this "white-collar organized crime." Although RJR's Canadian affiliate and its president pleaded guilty to involvement in the illegal smuggling, the political and legal clout of the industry was able to lobby against legislation and enforcement while such cynical, deliberate and even strategic corporate misconduct never attracts the stigma attached to "real" crime and criminals. This excellent chapter reinforces the argument made by Ruggiero in another chapter, and elsewhere, that our academic separation of organized and corporate crime into distinct categories has prevented us from seeing clearly the frequent collusion and covert alliances between them (as in disposing of toxic waste or in the garment industry). [End Page 227]

Then there is extensive evidence that the assumption of a global, well-lubricated, threatening industry of crime — run by the TOC "multinationals" and generating an "evangelism of fear" and "geography of evil" — does not accord with the research on the social organization of crime. Many of the illegal industries examined are fluid, competitive, with small units of shifting entrepreneurs with no central control or market monopoly. In Desroches study of the drug trade in Canada there were "no cartels, no Mafia, no drug barons" but predominantly people who saw dealing as a non-violent business — "To be successful, traffickers must provide a quality product at competitive prices and maintain a reputation for reliability and trustworthy service." They mostly had no criminal records, did not follow a stereotypical criminal life-style but saw crime as a "job." The rhetoric is often of foreign criminals in mafia-like organizations but the assessment of the organized crime threat in the UK in 2000 concluded that the majority of criminal groups consisted predominantly of British Caucasians; and a Dutch detective told a public inquiry that the closer you get to organized crime the less "organized" it appears to be.

The "alien conspiracy" rhetoric of a global threat to western, and particularly American, interests has enabled the military industrial complex to provide services and hardware in the "war" on drugs. Sheptycki and Ronderos both focus on how the United States has provided military hardware to "developing" countries where they identify "narco-guerillas" with left-wing movements. But America also interferes in internal policies and legal systems by using powerful instruments like the annual "certification" whereby, under anti-drug legislation, it can apply leverage to countries that are tardy in their anti-drug efforts by limiting loans from the major development banks. Furthermore, the U. S. has greatly influenced other counties into entering anti-drug and...


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pp. 227-229
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2007
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