Over the past four years, Serbia has scrapped visas for more than 20 countries. Despite attempts to describe it as an incentive for foreign investments or political rewards for supporting Serbia’s stance over the disputed independence of Kosovo, the true motives have remained almost completely opaque. Opposition officials have publicly warned that the scheme could, in fact, increase the risk of money laundering and illicit trade deals.
Authorities in Serbia have been using businessmen as fixers and go-betweens to maintain informal communication channels with key political players in Kosovo. Arguably this is to ensure that ethnic Serbs who live in the north remain loyal to Vučić and his political protégés, but it has also had an impact on the investment environment; contributing to opacity, and the uncompetitive awarding of lucrative projects.
Driven by a religious ethos, government-linked foundations operate under low levels of accountability, a factor that has allegedly exposed some of them to questionable activities carried out by government officials. In addition to becoming embroiled in allegations of corruption, Turkey’s charities have also used been utilised as a resource distribution tool; more specifically, as a place where government loyalists are rewarded with employment.
Romania has been the target of public allegations suggesting that members of the government have illicitly benefited from EU funds through opaque schemes involving county councils and the Ministry of European Funds. Recent developments have further reinforced these concerns - often driven by the opacity that surrounds the distribution of EU funding.
Opacity surrounding how EU agricultural funds are distribiuted in Bulgaria is feeding allegations that state officials in the country’s main agriculture state agency and in the Ministry of Agriculture personally benefit from their position. It is believed that these officials distribute EU funds to loyal landowners in exchange for a de facto kick-back.
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Developments in Turkey and Lebanon could impact on the illicit narcotics routes that go to Western Europe. In both cases, the weakening of the security state apparatus will contribute to the expansion of the illicit economic interests of drug trafficking networks.
Purges in Turkey’s law enforcement structures have undermined the ability of the state to counter the growing drug trafficking problem. This is having an impact on political stability as it feeds terrorism and overall police ineffectiveness.
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The energy sector in Turkey not only plays a vital economic role, but it is also a tool for political interests. The overwhelming influence of the state in this sector has allowed the government to utilise it to reinforce the loyalty of its surrounding informal networks.
Although the Communist Turkish terrorist group, DHKP-C, had its height in the 1990s, it has reappeared on Turkey’s national security scene as an actor growing in prominence. Its political loyalty to Syria’s Al-Assad has secured the group both military training and financing.
Throughout 2017 Erdoğan will continue to accumulate his own powers vis-à-vis Turkey. The most relevant political event could very realistically be a new Constitution and a Presidential system.
On a visit to the U.S., Erdogan accuses US attorneys involved in the Zarrab case of having links to the Gulen movement.
Turkey has long-standing links to organised crime and trafficking networks across the Balkans and southeast Europe. Despite being recognised as an independent state in 2008, Kosovo has become a centre of illicit networks, whilst also benefiting from close ties to Turkey.