The spider's web: Europol goes global in the hunt for intelligence and analysis:
Part 1.2

Across the Atlantic: Brazil and Mexico

Both Brazil and Mexico are considered by the EU as "strategic partners", and there are a number of high-level agreements that guide relations between them.

The EU agreed a Joint Action Plan with Brazil in 2011 which made a number of statements regarding joint attempts to deal with organised crime and corruption, including agreeing to "cooperate in preventing the use of their financial systems for laundering proceeds arising from criminal activities in general and implementing Financial Action Task Force recommendations," and to "explore the possibilities of sharing experiences and best practices among Financial Intelligence Units (FIU) of Brazil and EU member countries."

There was also agreement on exchanging "experiences, cooperation and good practices with interested countries in fighting against organised crime activities," considering "inter-agency bilateral exchange of information and best practices on law enforcement," and "strengthening bilateral legal and police cooperation."

"Brazilian organised crime groups must be carefully monitored," according to Europol's "business case" for concluding an agreement with the country. That agreement should be operational - permitting the exchange of personal data - and given "high priority". [6]

Growing opportunities

The agency notes that rapid economic expansion, increased migration between the EU and Brazil (in both directions), growing trade links between the EU and Brazil and the forthcoming Olympics and World Cup in the Latin American state all lead to "opportunities for organised crime."

This is only too clear in Europol's assessment of the problem of migration from Brazil to the EU: "Brazilians represent an ongoing issue with regard to illegal immigration into the EU. In recent years Brazilians have become one of the main nationalities refused entry to the EU," while "Brazilian criminals are increasingly detected as facilitators of illegal immigration in the EU."

Europol maintains a file, AWF Phoenix, on "South American trafficking networks" and increasing amounts of data are being entered by Member States into the file, but it remains incomplete: "Information received from Brazil would be very useful to complete the picture that AWF Phoenix has in the EU on the Brazilian THB [trafficking in human beings] networks."

There are also concerns over drug smuggling, the trade in endangered species (which makes use of techniques developed for smuggling drugs), credit card fraud, counterfeiting of the Euro, and terrorism.

The issue of counterfeiting appears to have proved tricky for Europol in the past, with member states' own interests standing in the way of the agency's work: "In operational cases, use has been made of the services of EU bi-lateral Liaison Officers based in Brazil, but often, as they have their own priorities, this method of communication has depended very much on their will to cooperate."

Meanwhile, terrorism is an issue on which the EU and Brazil have not yet cooperated, but "a number of religiously motivated, extremist groups linked to Hezbollah and possibly al-Qaeda have reportedly been active in Brazil, specifically close to the Tri-Border area (TBA - Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay)."

However: "the topic remains very sensitive, since Brazil has been accused by the USA in the recent past of failing to cooperate in this area and denying the presence of known terrorists on its territory."

Terrorists, anarchists and traffickers

Terrorism also crops up as an issue in Europol's analysis of Mexico, with the agency noting that EU countries such as the UK and France are often used as transit points for smuggling people to Mexico. Moreover, "the immigrants detected are often from countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq prompting concerns also in respect of potential links with terrorism." [7]

Under the name of combating terrorism Europol is also taking an interest in separatist and anarchist groups in Mexico. There are apparently reports of ETA (the Basque independence movement) presence in the country, and "Mexico is very relevant for Europol… as numerous anarchist extremist activities have been committed there, whilst often claiming solidarity with anarchists imprisoned in the EU."

Relations between the EU and Mexico have intensified over the last decade, and in 2010 a Joint Executive Plan saw the two countries agree to "encourage a set of specific measures" in areas similar to those on which the EU has agreed to cooperate with Brazil.

These include "combating transnational organised crime, drug trafficking, illegal manufacturing and trafficking of weapons, explosives, trafficking in human beings, and other public security and law enforcement issues," concerns which are reflected in Europol's business case for the country. [8]

The Joint Executive Plan also includes a commitment to "establish a sectoral dialogue on public security and law enforcement in order to stimulate bilateral cooperation" which will, amongst other things, allow the two parties to "exchange information, experiences, knowledge and intelligence"; "strengthen cooperation" on "public security, justice, crime prevention, police intelligence, training and equipment, prison policies and institutional development, and human rights."

The Plan also includes a commitment to "explore the opportunity and possible means to initiate cooperation between Mexico and Frontex on border security related issues."

So far there are no signs that Mexico and Frontex have initiated cooperation, but Europol is particularly candid in its business case when discussing one issue which may attract the attention of the EU's border agency - human trafficking:

"Mexican authorities have detected a growing number of Eastern European women… being trafficked to the main cities… They also mentioned an ongoing investigation linked with Germany as well as another related to Bulgaria in which high ranking officers of the Bulgarian authorities are allegedly involved."

Meanwhile, although it is "far from being clear" whether "a notable increase in cocaine trafficking from Mexico to the South West hub" - Western Africa and Northwest Africa and Southwest Europe - is due to Mexican organised crime groups, Europol's AWF Cola has some information on operations with "tentative links to Mexican suspects, although their involvement seems limited."

"Colombian sources… consider that cocaine trafficking is split along very identifiable lines with Mexican organised crime groups (OCGs) controlling trafficking to USA, and Colombian OCGs, controlling the networks to Europe," but Europol's discussions with Mexican authorities suggest that "Mexican cartels already control the distribution towards USA and are now turning their attention towards the EU markets."

The potential threat posed by Mexican OCGs to the EU "are sufficiently serious to justify priority attention being given to the possibility of concluding a cooperation agreement." Doing so "would be beneficial to Europol and its Member States in the long term." There is no indication whether such an agreement would be strategic, or operational (and thus permitting the exchange of personal data).

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[6] Europol, Business Case: Cooperation with Brazil, 4 April 2012
[7] Europol, Business Case: Cooperation with Mexico, 4 April 2012
[8] Council of the European Union, Mexico-European Union Strategic Partnership Joint Executive Plan, 9820/10, 16 May 2010
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