The Coronavirus is having a profound effect on the established structures of our globe. International travel has been suspended, borders have been closed, entire countries are in lockdown to prevent further spread, and health systems are being stretched to their limits.

Over the course of 12 weeks, this special edition weekly podcast looks at how the ongoing Coronavirus is impacting organized crime around the world – and how the illicit economy may affect our ability to respond to the virus.

Episode 1 – A Pandemic and Organized Crime

Episode 2 – Dark Pharma and COVID-19

Episode 3 – COVID and Cybercrime

Episode 4 – Human Trafficking and Coronavirus

Episode 5 – Human Smuggling and COVID-19

Episode 6 – Cocaine Trafficking and COVID – Colombia, Central America & Mexico

Episode 7 – Cocaine Trafficking and COVID – South America, West Africa & Europe

Episode 8 – Heroin’s journey during COVID

Episode 9 – Illegal Wildlife Trade: Responsible for COVID?

Episode 10 – COVID and Corruption pt.1

Episode 11 – COVID and Corruption pt.2

Episode 12 – The COVID Roundtable

Bonus Episode – Sarah Chayes on Corruption

It's been a while since our previous episode of The Impact. But in that time the Global Initiative has continued to track the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on organized crime around the world.

As the rest of the world shut down, the adaptability and agility of criminal networks has been clear to see – they have found new routes for illegal commodities, from drugs to people.

In this special episode Jack introduces Lindy Mtongana and her interview with the Director of the Global Initiative, Mark Shaw, and the Deputy Director, Tuesday Reitano to discuss their new book - Criminal Contagion: How Mafias, Gangsters and Scammers Profit from a Pandemic.

You can also watch the interview here.

Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

Brazil is a vast country of some 211 million people. A nation full of energy but also plagued by crime; powerful criminal networks like the PCC and Red Commando battle over international and domestic drug trafficking routes. Then there is illegal logging, gold mining, land invasion, human trafficking, high levels of violence, highly militarised law enforcement and a huge corruption scandal that rocked the Brazilian political class.

And now COVID-19 has struck and Brazil has the second highest number of cases in the world.


Ana Paula Oliveira / Jack Meegan-Vickers


Antonio Sampaio, a research fellow at the International institute for Strategic Studies, the host of the Sounds Strategic Podcast and a member of the GI Network of Experts

Christian Vianna De Azevedo, an academic researcher, and law enforcement officer who specialises in transnational organised crime and terrorism. Christian is also a member of the GI Network of experts

Gabriel de Santis Feltran, a Professor at the Federal University of Sao Carlos in Sao Paulo state and member of the GI Network of experts

Adriana Erthal Abdenur, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Plataforma CIPÓ and a member of the GI Network of experts.

Additional Reading

‘Illicit order: The militarized logic of organized crime and urban security in Rio de Janeiro’

In this bonus episode of The Impact: Coronavirus and Organized Crime, Jack sits down with author and former NPR foreign correspondent, Sarah Chayes.

In this extended version of the interview which was part of the COVID and Corruption episode, Sarah talks about her experience of studying corruption around the world and how kleptocratic networks capture state institutions, even in the United States.

Sarah Chayes is the author of Thieves of State and the upcoming book On Corruption in America.

A different sounding episode as Jack sits down with a collection of organized crime experts to discuss what we have seen over the past few months and what might happen next.


Tuesday Reitano, Deputy Director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime

Nirmal Ghosh, US Bureau Chief for The Straits Times and member of the GI Network of experts

Joyce Kimani, the Observatory Coordinator for  East and Horn of Africa at the GI

Guillermo Vazquez, Senior Analyst at the GI

Lyes Tagziria, Analyst at the GI

Ana Paula, Analyst at the GI

Faces of Assassination

This Pandemic is causing huge economic impacts. The World Bank has forecast a contraction of 5.3% in global GDP in 2020 – that is the deepest global recession in decades leaving lasting scars on the lives of people living all over the world.

And this could manifest itself in many ways - a rush to push government policy through to help combat the immediate effects of COVID means that the usual stringent checks may be ignored.

And organized criminal networks are positioning themselves to capture state institutions and contracts – enriching themselves at the expense of the public.


Andy Guth - adjunct professor and an expert on anti-corruption and how it works with transnational organized crime groups.

Professor Adriano Nuvunga - Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development in Mozambique and a leading civil society activist.

Vanda Felbab-Brown - Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and also a member of the GI Network of experts.

Ambassador Ugi Zvekic - Senior Adviser at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.

Faces of Assassination

It’s clear that throughout the recorded history of humanity, corruption has been present – and in a modern context Transparency International define corruption as the “abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. 

In this time of unprecedented economic recession due to the COVID health crisis, organized corruption networks, are in a perfect position to bleed the system and organized criminal groups will be in line to slice off their share.

When huge economic stimuli are injected into the system, it causes unintended consequences. As one of our guests today wrote that "an emergency offers unparalleled opportunities for the coordinated looting of public coffers that feeds such networks. Life is upended; emotions run high. In the scramble, tested procedures are ignored and structures are disorganized. Exhausted decision makers, pressured to “do something,” miss crucial details, even as quantities of cash are injected into the chaos.”


Sarah Steingrüber - Independent Global Health Consultant/U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre

Innocent Chukwuma - Director, West Africa at the Ford Foundation

Sarah Chayes - Journalist and Author, Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security AND the upcoming book On Corruption in America.

Ana Castro - Coordinator for Central America at Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime

Faces of Assassination

Global Initiative Podcasts

We explore the illegal wildlife trade and it's apparent role in the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. The huge socio-economic consequences on the communities where this trade takes place, not to mention the threat to biodiversity, environmental sustainability, the brutality suffered by the animals themselves.

The illegal wildlife trade is complex and far reaching – it’s estimated to be worth between seven and 23 billion US dollars, making it one of the most lucrative forms of transnational organised crimes.

It's also used as a way to launder illicit proceeds from other illegal markets such as narcotics, the arms trade and modern slavery.  


Aron White - Wildlife Campaigners and China specialist at the Environmental Investigation Agency.

Nirmal Ghosh – US Bureau Chief of the Straits Times & environmental crime journalist (GI Network).

Jo Shaw – Senior Manager of the Wildlife programme for WWF, South Africa.

Alastair Nelson – Resilience Fund Coordinator for Mozambique for the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

Carl Miller - Research director at CASM (GI Network).

Meredith GoreConservation Social Scientist and Associate Professor at Michigan State University.

John M. Sellar OBE – Senior Advisor to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and the former Chief of Enforcement at CITES.

Global Initiative Digital Dangers


For over three decades Afghanistan has been the most dominant and largest producer of opium poppy and the production of heroin. From Afghanistan, heroin travels North and South – the northern route takes the heroin through Central Asia and into Russia. The Southern route takes the heroin into Pakistan – From there, like a spider, it spreads in all directions. But how is COVID-19 impacting it?

A Shallow Flood: the Diffusion of Heroin in Eastern and Southern Africa


Vanda Felbab-Brown, the Brookings Institution and GI Network

Tariq Khosa, the National Initiative Against Organized Crime Pakistan

Ben Crabtree

Jason Eligh, Senior Analyst at the Global Initiative Against Organized Crime

Simone Haysom – Senior Analyst at the Global Initiative Against Organized Crime

In Part 2 - Our journey follows the cocaine out of South America and across the Atlantic into Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, which that has been dubbed “a narco-state” by the UN and US.

Then onto the the second largest Cocaine market, Europe. Where we’ll talk about the 'Ndrangheta Mafia group from Calabria in Southern Italy, who purportedly control 80% of the cocaine trade on the continent.

Then we'll cross the Adriatic into the Balkan region of Europe where criminal groups distribute cocaine in all directions.

Discussed Papers

Breaking the vicious cycle - Cocaine politics in Guinea-Bissau

A parallel contagion: Is Mafia entrepreneurship exploiting the Pandemic?



Mark Shaw - Director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime

Sergio Nazarro - Journalist, Writer and spokesman for the President of the Anti-Mafia parliamentary commission

Fatjona Mejdini - Journalist and Field Network Coordinator: Balkans, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime

Jason Eligh - Senior Expert, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime

The 1970s was a decade of change. It was on the disco dance floors of Miami and Los Angeles to Rome and London that a new party drug emerged, beginning in jungles of South America, it was sweeping through the night clubs, Cocaine.

By the end of the decade, in broad daylight, a drug-related shooting at the Dadeland Mall in Kendall, Florida thrust in the era of the ‘Cocaine Cowboys’. Over the proceeding decades hundreds of thousands have died as rival Cartels in Colombia and then Mexico fought for supremacy over the cocaine trade, which is estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

In Part 1, Jack will look at how coronavirus is impacting the cocaine trade and how the Cartels in Colombia, Central America and Mexico are reacting.


Toby Muse, author of KILOS: Life and Death Inside the Secret World of the Cocaine Cartels

Guillermo Vazquez, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime

Ioan Grillo, author of El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency and Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America

Deborah Bonello, Mexicoreporter

Jason Eligh, Global Initiative Against Organized Crime

This week, we’re going to be talking about human smuggling. Jack will be discussing militarized borders, the closure of smuggling routes, illegal migrants wanting to return home and the fears about what comes next. From the US/Mexico border down into Central America and from the Sahel/Sahara to the Libyan coast and into Europe.

This week's guests are Ana Castro, Gabriella Sanchez, Mark Micallef, Alexandre Bish and Lucia Bird.

Special production help from Lucia Bird.

COVID Crime Watch

Global Initiative Aganist Transnational Organized Crime

This week, Jack is discussing the impact of COVID-19 on human trafficking. A crime where people are trapped through the use of violence, deception, coercion and exploitation for the financial gain of others. 

He's joined by three of the 2020 Resilience Fellows of the Global Initiative’s Resilience Fund - Ioana Bauer (eLiberare), Judie Kaberia (Journalist & Wayamo Foundation) and Caitlin Wyndham (Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, Vietnam).

Also on the podcast are Anna Borgström is CEO of NetClean and Quinn Kepes, Senior Program Director at Verité.

Global Initiative

Cybercrime is on the rise during this pandemic and in our third episode in the series, we’ll be delving into the ones-and-zeros and talking about hacking, ransomware, scamming, malware and phishing.

This week, Jack is joined by the BBC's Cyber Security Correspondent Joe Tidy who has been tracking all the COVID related cyber crimes through his website

We're also joined by Lucia Bird, Thi Hoang, Prem Mahadevan from the Global Initiative and Joanna Callen from the Caribbean Policy Research Institute in Jamaica.

Global Initiative

Paper: Cybercrime: Threats during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Paper: Scamming, Gangs and Violence in Montego Bay

Markets for fake, fraudulent and counterfeit goods are estimate to be worth between $65 to $200 BILLION DOLLARS each year. It is one of the largest and most lucrative form of organized crime.

This week we’re going to be discussing the biggest of them all, the counterfeit medicines market. In an period of unprecedented pressure on global health systems, it is critically important that we can feel confident in our care. But the criminal actors who manufacture and traffic fake meds, are already moving in to capitalise on coronavirus.

Presenter: Jack Meegan-Vickers

Guests: Peter Tinti, Siria Gastelum Felix, Robin Cartwright and Norlinda Abdul Rachman.

Dark Pharma – Counterfeit and Contraband Pharmaceuticals in Central America

The Rise of Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals in Africa

The Impact is a special edition weekly podcast that will look at how the ongoing Coronavirus is impacting on organized crime around the world and how the illicit economy may affect our ability to respond to the virus.

This podcast is brought to you by the Global Initiaitive Against Organized Crime


Crime & Contagion Policy document