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Organized Crime and Corruption of State Institutions

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Louise Shelley, director of American University's Transnational Crime and Corruption Center, said that all discussions about organized crime should be understood in an historical context. The relationship between organized crime and government does not form overnight. For example, the roots of organized crime go back to the 1860s in Italy, and even earlier in Japan
although the state-organized crime relationship was shaped by events in the 1920s in Japan. Shelley maintained that organized crime groups have survived because they have performedfunctions for the state and have developed along with the state.

Shelley said that periods of rapid economic expansion or post-war reconstruction allow openings for greater criminal involvement with the state. Often, militaries are directly involved in organized crime activities. Afghanistan, Colombia, and the Balkans are examples of such postconflict situations. Mozambique is an example of where there has been peaceful conflict settlement but major organized crime penetration into the state. Property redistribution and privatization also foster the conditions that allow organized crime to take hold.

William J.  Lahneman is the Associate Director for Programs at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland.