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Southeast Asia human trafficking now a global crisis, Interpol says

Published 03/27/2024, 07:13 AM
Updated 03/28/2024, 12:43 AM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view shows the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) headquarters in Lyon, France, September 30, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

By Yantoultra Ngui

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Organised crime rings who fuelled an "explosion" of human trafficking and cyber scam centres during the pandemic have expanded from Southeast Asia into a global network making up to $3 trillion a year, the head of Interpol said on Wednesday.

"Driven by online anonymity, inspired by new business models and accelerated by COVID, these organised crime groups are now working at a scale that was unimaginable a decade ago," Interpol secretary-general Jurgen Stock told a briefing at the global police coordination body's Singapore office.

"What began as a regional crime threat in Southeast Asia has become a global human trafficking crisis, with millions of victims, both in the cyber scam centres and as targets."

The new cyber-scam centres, often staffed by unwilling staff trafficked with the promise of legitimate jobs, had helped organised crime groups diversify their revenue from drug trafficking, Stock said.

Drug trafficking businesses still contributed 40% to 70% of criminal groups' income, he said.

"But we see groups clearly diversifying their criminal businesses using drug trafficking routes also for trafficking of human beings, trafficking of arms, intellectual property, stolen products, car theft," Stock said.

About $2 trillion to $3 trillion in illicit proceeds are channeled through the global financial system annually, he said, adding that an organised crime group can make $50 billion a year.

The United Nations said last year that more than 100,000 people had been trafficked into online scam centres in Cambodia. In November, Myanmar handed over thousands of fugitive Chinese telecom fraud suspects to China.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view shows the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) headquarters in Lyon, France, September 30, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

A Reuters investigation last year detailed the emergence in Thailand of one branch of such alleged cyber-crime and its financing.

Stock praised Singapore for its success in uncovering a money laundering case last year involving seized assets amounting to over S$3 billion ($2.23 billion).

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