Investment of criminal proceeds into the legitimate economy – a comparative analysis of Russian and Italian organised crime in the UK real estate market

This study will examine investments into the UK real estate market made by Russian organised crime and the Italian mafias post Brexit.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Emanuele Sclafani
Police region
South East
Level of research
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

The purpose of this study is to compare investments of Russian organised crime with those of the Italian mafias in the UK real estate market in recent years/after Brexit. These criminal organisations have notable tendencies to be flexible and have high levels of organisation, which makes it difficult to investigate and counter them.

They pose a serious threat to the economic and financial systems in all European countries, including the UK, because they often manifest themselves in the legal economy as economic business companies.

This thesis explores the modus operandi used by these criminal organisations to launder money so as to find a way to mitigate this process and propose a counter strategy. In this context, understanding the main factors related to the risks generated by the legislation that allow the investments of organised crime into the legitimate economy may help to improve the effectiveness of counter-organised crime policies in the Europe and potentially beyond.

The research aims to expand our understanding about the changing landscape of operations of Italian and Russian organised crime in the UK real estate market in recent years/after Brexit. It will increase the knowledge about the degree of vulnerability of the real estate sector to organised crime in the UK in recent years/after Brexit.

Research methodology

This research project will be based on several methods, including the multidisciplinary approach of crime-proofing of legislation, semi-structured interviews with law enforcement agents, prosecutors, investigative journalists, and other related public figures, as well as systematic analysis of court files and secondary sources (e.g., scholarly articles, reports by state agencies and international organisations, legal documents, mass media publications).

The semi-structured interviews will be conducted in two European countries (Italy, UK) over the phone or over Skype or in person. The interviews will be conducted in English and Italian. Each interview will be transcribed, analysed, and integrated with other sources of research (academic literature, official reports, and the news media). Qualitative analysis of interviews will be aided by NVivo software.

The purpose of the interviews is to gather information about various aspects related to the investment of criminal organisations in the legitimate economy, including the geographic location of the investment, the type of asset, the related business sector, and the related criminal groups. Moreover the interviews will be helpful in comparing opportunities for criminal investments in countries with high mafia presence such as Italy to countries with low mafia presence or none such as the UK.

An approach of crime-proofing of legislation will be adopted to identify criminal opportunities unwittingly produced by legislation/regulation.

Additionally, the researcher will use crime risk assessment that consists of three steps, which are:

  • an initial screening
  • a crime risk assessment preliminary
  • the final crime risk assessment

The first step consists of a quick selection which is based on seven indicators of legislation potentially at risk in order to encounter the need for further analysis. If it occurs, the analysis moves to the second phase, identifying the risks generated by the legislation and facilitation of crime.

Based on the methodology of crime-proofing of legislation, the first part of the analysis focuses on the text of the laws, and the second on the vulnerability of the market. Thanks to this innovative scientific methodology, the researcher will be identifying possible risks of criminal infiltration to particular economic segments and different indicators and variables will be chosen on the basis of the literature review, analysis of case studies, consultations with institutions and stakeholders. 

Finally, information will be systematically drawn by examining reports of international institutions such as official documents from:

  • National Antimafia Directorate (Direzione Nazionale Antimafia, DNA) and National Antimafia Police (Direzione Investigativa Antimafia, DIA)
  • FATF (Financial Action Task Force)
  • Europol
  • Eurojust
  • OLAF (European Anti-Fraud Office)
  • FIU (Financial Investigation Unit)
  • Interpol

It will also be drawn from reports and websites of major law enforcement agencies abroad such as SOCA (Serious Organized Crime Agency).

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