Lyes Tagziria

Last week’s #CovidCrimeWatch newsletter focused on how criminal actors had exploited nationwide lockdowns to facilitate their criminal activity, and how different forms of organized crime are likely to develop once restrictions begin to ease.

This week, we draw together a number of stories on a wide range of issues, including the booming black market for cigarettes and alcohol in South Africa, and a survey that reveals how the drug market may be more resilient to external disruption than initially thought.

At the end of last week, we released the latest episode of the GI-TOC podcast series, ‘The Impact: Coronavirus and Organized Crime’. Alongside this week’s newsletter, the second part of the episode that focused on cocaine trafficking around the world will be available. Furthermore, the latest policy brief, ‘Crisis and opportunity: impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on illicit drug markets’, which takes a comprehensive look at the evidence base for changes to the global illicit-drugs supply chain, can be accessed here.


News 24, 9 May 2020

At the end of March, the South African government announced that the sale of tobacco and alcohol was to be banned as part of the initial 21-day lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19. The government argued that there is a link between alcohol consumption and violence, road accidents and other medical emergencies, which would divert scarce resources from the fight against coronavirus. However, the ban has created a burgeoning black market for the now-contraband goods. Underground networks have quickly organized, relying on word-of-mouth and messaging services to ensure customers can purchase their required goods.

While it appears to be fairly easy to source the illegal goods, it comes at a cost. The price of cigarettes has skyrocketed in the past month, increasing from approximately R35 for a packet before the lockdown to over R130 in recent days. Sellers argue that the risk associated with these illegal sales justifies the price hike. In some areas, dealers will only sell the contraband from their own homes to avoid arrest at police roadblocks, and the vast majority of the risk is assumed by the customer. It seems, therefore, that the extortionate prices are simply down to dealers manipulating the market and taking advantage of customers desperate for their fix.


Thomson Reuters Foundation News, 5 May 2020

Many sectors have been hit hard by the lockdown measures imposed by the UK government in mid-March. Sara Thornton, the UK anti-slavery commissioner, has warned that the country needs to be vigilant of human traffickers as restrictions ease. When the economy gets going once again, many businesses will be in a rush to recruit workers, and traffickers may try to capitalize on this.

Furthermore, there are growing concerns over the wellbeing of existing victims of modern slavery amid the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, a record 10 627 possible victims of modern slavery were identified in Britain, the majority of whom are subject to labour exploitation, often working at car washes or beauty salons. With these enterprises currently closed for business, albeit temporarily, there is a risk that the victims are racking up a considerable debt and may be forced into more perilous work in order to pay it off.


AP News, 5 May 2020

The novel coronavirus is one of the gravest threats many of the world’s countries have faced in decades. But in Mexico, the danger posed by COVID-19 is just one more risk facing a number of communities who have long suffered from violence and gang activity. Self-isolation, quarantine and curfews have recently been introduced in every corner of the globe, but for the hundreds of Mexican communities who live under the control of criminal gangs, restrictions to their everyday lives are nothing new.

Although Mexico has the second highest COVID-19 death toll in Latin America, levels of violence in the country have not subsided. In fact, March witnessed the highest number of homicides in Mexico in just under two years, and 61 000 people are missing. There is a concern that many people have become desensitized to life-threatening realities as a result of the history of violence experienced in these communities.


VICE, 7 May 2020

Despite what many seemed to predict at the start of the pandemic, the global coronavirus outbreak appears to have had a less disruptive effect on drug markets than first thought. According to a survey conducted by Release, the UK’s national centre of expertise on drugs and drug laws, only one in five respondents there reported increased difficulty in accessing their drug of choice. Furthermore, while one in five respondents reported an increase in drug prices, one in 10 said that prices had decreased.

The results from the survey also suggest that dealers are changing their behaviour in response to the virus and in line with government guidance on social distancing. Two-thirds of those supplying drugs abide by the two-metre rule when interacting with their customers. In addition to maintaining a physical distance, drug dealers are also turning to the use of gloves and cashless payments to protect both themselves and their customers.

As our new policy brief explores, drug markets continue to be shaped by their ability to adapt to environmental change. Disruptions in the supply, distribution and demand for illicit commodities are to be expected amid the pandemic, but in crisis there is also opportunity. This includes potential access to new marketplaces and consumers, as well as a chance to pilot new distribution channels and increase resilience in the means of drug production.


In Colombia, pandemic heightens risks for women social leaders

Never waste a good crisis

250kg of cocaine found hidden in South American helicopter parts in Spain’s Valencia

La guerra de narcos por mantener el negocio en medio de la pandemia

#CovidCrimeWatch is curated by Lyes Tagziria.


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