Globalization facilitates trade and creates opportunities all around the world. But we live in a complex world and every great opportunity also comes with a downside. How can we fight the “Underworld of Globalization” and international cross-border crime?


Lars Karlsson, Managing Director and CEO of KGH Global Consulting, is a highly ranked expert on border security and recently published the academic paper “Lines, Flows and Transnational Crime: Toward a Revised Approach to Countering the Underworld of Globalization” together with Dr Alain Bersin. Bersin is the former Assistant Commissioner of Department of Homeland Security and Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP).

The article proposes a paradigm shift in the means and methods of combating transnational criminal activity. Global illicit flows, engineered by organized crime on a massive scale alongside lawful trade and travel, represent a principal challenge to public safety and civic order. The article states that our current system is not equipped to meet the challenge effectively and suggests a series of propositions in support of developing a revised approach to confronting transnational criminal activity.

The current Covid-19 crisis has also put this matter to the top of the agenda, since there have been reports that different crime organisations take advantage of the situation, in a recent article by Roberto Saviano in The Guardian for example.

We talked to Lars about the paper.

How can you summarize the “Underworld of Globalisation”? Who are the actors and what are they doing?

– The underworld of globalization and international organized crime consists of a large number of transnational crime syndicates, organized crime groups, political terrorist organizations and an environment of regional/national criminal sub-contractor gangs. There is also a grey zone of semi-criminal organizations and service providers that works with these criminal networks which makes them more powerful and difficult to combat. The international crime syndicates today work together as partners in advanced criminal enterprise constructions, cooperating globally to maximize profit.

How are the different mafia organisations exploiting the Covid-19 crisis?

– When international organizations, national institutions, society functions and business on all levels are weakened by concentrating on crises, like fighting a pandemic, international crime exploits the situation in various ways, from entering supply chains of medical equipment to making investments in the pharmaceutical and healthcare products sectors. Another traditional business of these criminal networks is providing loans, which naturally is even more requested when companies fight for their existence. Through the loan offerings, the criminal organization either get a chance to efficiently laundry money or at the of the day take over these legitimate companies and use them for the business of the syndicate. It is said that for every honest entrepreneur at risk of having to close their restaurant or shop, there’s a mafia clan ready to intervene and take over the business or offer a cash injection in exchange for shares. There are many ways that the underworld of globalization now is thriving on this crisis and others that will follow. This also goes for the area of cybercrime that has spiked during the Covid-19/Corona virus crisis.

What can we do to stop them? Both short term and long term.

– There is only one way to mitigate these serious and frightening trends and that is through a new level of international cooperation in several dimensions. We need to create a global capacity to respond, where multinational organizations, international institutions, regional and national enforcement agencies work closely together with the private sector – all stakeholders – to minimize risks throughout the international supply chain and integrated value chains.

For trade specifically, we need to add global operational capacity to manage and monitor the three flows of movements simultaneously in-real-time, namely; information/data (a) people-goods (b) and payments/money (c) for the transactions moving through the supply chain. We need a World Border Organization and a world movement management alliance with the mandate to act and interact even operationally within a given and well-defined framework, mobilizing also the global tech industry to support such an initiative with state-of-the-art thinking, services and products.

Can this be done? Yes, it could be done already today. We lack the political vision to do so for the moment and the focus is to fight another enemy right now, the Covid-19/Coronavirus, but I am convinced that crises like the one that is tormenting us now also sharpen the political decision making and our collective ability and capacity to mobilize against other threats. I would not be surprised if the learning from this pandemic also will trigger new innovative responses to other dangerous threats when we eventually move into post-Covid19 phases.


“Lines, Flows and Transnational Crime: Toward a Revised Approach to Countering the Underworld of Globalization” can be found here: