Like a virus, illicit economies spread and mutate

By Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Originally posted on

leana Ros-Lehtinen discusses the dangers of illicit economies and how they have thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic:

“The Biden-Harris pledges cast a spotlight on an unsavory but often overlooked truth, something I saw firsthand during my years in Congress: Illicit economies are a pernicious and growing problem. They exist worldwide in the form of everything ranging from digital piracy and poaching to human trafficking, the sale of counterfeit goods, and the trade of illegal drugs.”

“Generating a vicious cycle of governmental failures, a weak rule of law, violence, and related corruption, illicit economies threaten stability, peace, economic progress, and security across the globe. This partly stems from how it drains from the global economy. According to the World Economic Forum, illicit economies generate over $2 trillion globally each year for nefarious organizations and criminals.”

“Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the problem even worse. As governments have been focused on providing essential services to safeguard citizens, nefarious actors have accelerated criminal and terrorist funding efforts, as we saw last July when the Department of Justice seized $2 million worth of cryptocurrency from members of the Islamic State. It is no coincidence that this terrorist organization raked in funding from illicit goods such as counterfeit pharmaceuticals and cigarettes.”

“What all this experience tells me is this: Political corruption and illicit economies, like a virus, easily spread and mutate. As the pandemic is teaching us, the only way to confront transnational challenges is through cooperation and coordination among everyone from government and multinational organizations to private industries and academic experts.”

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