Organized crime takes the lion’s share of USD31.5 billion in illicit flows in and around conflict areas 

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 Organized Crime, provides the first consolidated global overview of their significance in conflicts worldwide.

Of the USD31.5 billion in illicit flows generated annually in conflict areas, 96% goes to organized criminal groups, with this money helping fuel violent conflict.

Based on public reports and criminal intelligence, the World Atlas 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 at 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%.


  • 38 per cent – Environmental crime, including illegal exploitation of oil, minerals and gold
  • 28 per cent – Drugs
  • 26 per cent – Illegal taxation, extortion, confiscation and looting
  • 3 per cent – External donations
  • 3 per cent – Money extorted through kidnapping for ransom
  • 1 per cent – Charcoal
  • 1 per cent – Antiquities


“The huge volume of illicit money being generated through the exploitation of natural resources is of great concern. Criminal networks and their activities fuel violent conflict which in turn undermines the rule of law,” said Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General.  “The report provides a new impetus for our continued efforts to stem these illicit flows and combat the threat transnational organized crime poses to peace, development and security,” he added.

“Combating organized crime must be considered a significant factor in conflict prevention and resolution if we are to become successful in securing peace,” said Christian Nellemann, Head of the RHIPTO Center. “In many instances, criminal groups, some 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.”

Of 1,113 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.
“Organized crime is increasingly undermining peace, security and development,” said Mark Shaw, Director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized 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 organized-criminal actors that create an environment of impunity and instability.

For the seven main extremist groups of insurgents and terrorists the combined funding totals about USD1-1.39 billion a year. Illicit smuggling may also include transshipments in violation of UN Sanctions.

  • In 2017 some 40,000 members of the Taliban received an estimated income of USD75–95 million from taxation – particularly of drugs, land and agricultural produce – and from donations from abroad.
  • In mid-2017, ISIS/Daesh made an estimated USD10 million a month. This figure is 98% down from their high of USD549–1 693 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 USD18–35 million and USD5–35 million respectively, from illegal taxation, donations, kidnapping for ransom, extortion, smuggling of counterfeit cigarettes, drugs and illegal taxation.
  • Al-Shabaab receives an estimated USD20 million, half from the illicit charcoal trade and the rest from other forms of taxation
  • Boko Haram made an estimated USD5–10 million, mainly from taxation, bank robberies, donations from other terrorist groups and kidnapping for ransom.

World Atlas of Illicit Flows

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Altlas Mondial des Flux Illicites

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Mark Shaw

Mark is the Director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

Mark is also a Senior Associate of the LSE International Drug Policy Unit, (LSE US Centre). He previously held the National Research Foundation Professor of Justice and Security at the University of Cape Town, Department of Criminology.

Mark worked for ten years at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), including as Inter-regional Advisor, Chief of the Criminal Justice Reform Unit and with the Global Programme against Transnational Organised Crime, where he lead projects and provided technical assistance to national governments, bilateral donors and international organisations in Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, West Africa, the Sahel and Southern Africa, on security sector and criminal justice reform, and countering transnational threats.

A South African national, before joining the UN, Mark held a number of positions in government and civil society where he worked on issues of public safety and urban violence in the post-apartheid transition.

He holds a PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and has published widely on organised crime, security and justice reform issues.

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Christian Nellemann

Christian Nellemann, PhD, is the Senior officer and head of the Rapid Response Unit and Director of Norwegian Center for Global Analyses. Nellemann has worked extensively in Central, South, East and Southeastern Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Circumpolar Arctic, covering a broad range of environmental and security issues from environmental and transnational organized crime to climate change, pollution, wildlife and marine ecology, food and human security, anti-smuggling, human trafficking, disasters and conflicts, and threat finance.

Nellemann has built training programmes for game scouts and rangers in Africa on tracking and crime scene management, having trained over 1,700 rangers across many countries. He has worked with enforcement training from tactics to strategies, with a special focus on threat finance, interventions and counterinsurgency, with both military and enforcement agencies, including support to UN peacekeeping missions on organized crime and counterinsurgencies.

He has led over 20 global and regional UN assessments including with UNEP, UNODC, INTERPOL, FAO, UNESCO and others. He has contributed to numerous hearings, panels, incident response teams and task forces as an expert for both parliaments, Congress, Supreme courts and different international and government agencies in many countries.

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Jurgen Stock

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Stock was born in Wetzlar on 04 October 1959. In November 2014, Dr. Stock was unanimously elected as the Secretary-General of INTERPOL.

Before joining INTERPOL, Dr. Stock was the Vice President of the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police Office) in Germany.

From 1978 to 1987 Stock was a police officer in Hesse. In 1984 Mr. Stock left to pursue a career in law and from 1996 to 1998 was the Deputy Head of Section at the Bundeskriminalamt. In 1998 he was appointed Professor and as founding rector of the Police College for Higher Professional Training in Saxony-Anhalt and in 2000 became Head of the Institute of Law Enforcement Studies and Training at the Bundeskriminalamt. In 2004 he was appointed Vice President of the Bundeskriminalamt.

Additional duties Mr. Stock has held include being a member of the advisory body at the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology on the “Industry political strategy for innovative and internationally successful security solutions” since 2010; member of the “Corporate Compliance” working party of the Institute for European Affairs (INEA) since 2009; member of the Federal Government’s scientific project committee on security research since 2007; and a member of the project management of the Federation/State Law Enforcement Crime Prevention Program since 2000.

Mr. Stock has held a number of prestigious positions including Vice President for Europe at the International Criminal Police Organisation (ICPO Interpol), Chairman of the Strategic Development Subcommittee from 2007 to 2010, Deputy Chairman of the European Research and Innovation Forum (ESRIF) from 2007 to 2009 and Delegate for Europe in the Executive Committee of the International Criminal Police Organisation (ICPO-Interpol), Chairman of the Finance Subcommittee from 2005 to 2007.

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