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Organized crime: World’s most lucrative criminal activities


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Drug trafficking is the most lucrative form of business for criminals, with an estimated annual value of $320 billion. UNODC says that roughly half of the income from organized crime comes from illicit drugs proceeds, equivalent to between 0.6 percent and 0.9 percent of global GDP.

Cocaine and heroin are the biggest illegal drugs traded, worth about $85 billion and $68 billion, respectively, in 2009.

Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency, says that around one-third of all criminal gangs in the region are involved in the drug trade, with cannabis increasingly popular because of low risks and high profits. In addition, Afghanistan is diversifying away from opium cultivation to emerge as a new player in cannabis resin production.

Albanian, Pakistani and Turkish gangs are big players in heroin, while the collapse of many of the Colombian drugs cartels has allowed Mexico and Nigeria to emerge as cocaine traffickers for the European market.

UNODC estimates the socioeconomic costs relating to drug abuse are roughly twice as high as the illicit income drug trafficking generates. Some costs may be indirect, such as the environmental damage from the heavy use of pesticides and insecticides to maximize yields from cannabis cultivation.

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