Transnational organized crime in Southeast Asia: evolution, growth and impact

Organised crime Illicit drug manufacture Drug traffic Southeast Asia

While transnational organized crime affects every country in the world, the nature of illicit markets and their impact differs region to region. Southeast Asia is no exception, and while it is prosperous in-part due to expanding social exchanges, trade and investment in infrastructure, the region is also challenged by increasingly aggressive organized crime networks and syndicates.

Like any business, transnational criminal enterprises seek out conditions that are good for the bottom line, and in Southeast Asia conditions have been favourable. The fact is that while law enforcement and border management in the region are robust in some jurisdictions, they are effectively not functioning in others, and limited cross-border cooperation and corruption are serious problems – key enabling factors for transnational organized crime are unfortunately in-place.

The situation is most vividly illustrated by the growth in methamphetamine production and trafficking, which have reached unprecedented and dangerous levels in the past few years. Profits have grown massively as organized crime groups have synthetized the drug market, consolidated production and innovated their business model. Heroin trafficking remains a problem, and other forms of transnational organized crime are also growing or appear to be growing, including the trade in counterfeit goods and medicines, trafficking and smuggling of people, and the trafficking of wildlife and timber. At the same time, the region’s rapidly expanding network of casinos, many of which are lightly or not at all regulated, has emerged as a perfect partner or offshoot industry for organized crime groups that need to launder large volumes of illicit money.

However, the phenomenon of organized crime in Southeast Asia is only partially understood because data remain limited. And while gathering and sharing information on clandestine criminal activity is a global challenge, it is particularly acute in the region. Importantly, this report addresses some of the gaps in the understanding of transnational organized crime in Southeast Asia, and discusses the situation in a matter of fact way.

To compile this report, UNODC worked closely with countries of the ASEAN region and neighbouring regions to collect and collate large amounts of information and intelligence on transnational crime flows. Ultimately it could not have been developed without tapping into existing mechanisms for regional dialogue, information exchange and cooperation, including multilateral forums like the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime / SOMTC and Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime / AMMTC, the ASEAN Senior Officials on Drug Matters / ASOD and Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters / AMMDM, the Mekong MOU on Drug Control, the UNODC border liaison office network, and different information and intelligence development and assistance programmes.

Publication Details
License type:
All Rights Reserved
Access Rights Type: