COVID-19 and Organized Crime: Strategies employed by criminal groups to increase their profits and power in the first months of the pandemic

Time period: April 2020 – April 2021

Description: The COVID-19 pandemic has created new opportunities for organized criminal groups and confronted them with new challenges. Analysis of how these groups have reacted to the pandemic yields better understanding of how they work and enables the devising of more effective counter-strategies. To this end, we identified illustrative cases regarding the provision of illegal governance and infiltration of the legal economy by conducting a systematic content analysis of international media articles and institutional reports published during the first eight months after the outbreak of the pandemic (January to August 2020). These cases were further analyzed in order to cluster the behavior of criminal groups in response to the COVID-19 emergency, and the means by which they tried to exploit the pandemic to strengthen their political and economic power. We found that different governance-type criminal groups proposed themselves as institutions able to mitigate the burdens imposed by the pandemic by providing support to people in need and enforcing social-distancing measures. Further, identified cases did not provide evidence of groups devoted to the provision of illicit services and goods assuming any governance role. In this respect, the available evidence supports previous knowledge about organized crime. Cases of misappropriation of public funds and organized crime infiltration of the legal economy seem less common, at least in the first phase of the pandemic. The wholesale distribution of pharmaceuticals and medicines has been the sector targeted the most.

Research Team: Alberto Aziani, Maria Jofre

Contact: Alberto Aziani (