Enhancing Policies to Combat Organized Crime
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
Unit of AssessmentSociology
Summary Impact TypeLegal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Human Geography, Sociology
Summary of the impact
Federico Varese`s research has redirected thinking on the (mainly local)
nature of organized crime. Varese has shown that a significant factor
accounting for the spread of organized crime is the efforts of individuals
to escape arrest in their home country. His research, as well as his role
on the Strategic Review (2010), has made substantial contributions to the
restructuring of the UK`s Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA). In Italy
and Canada, he has helped to shape and inform policy debates within the
Anti-Mafia Commission, and Public Safety Canada, respectively. His work
has also been cited as being "particularly relevant" by prosecutors in
Italy. More specifically, Varese`s use of quantitative methods to analyze
the transcripts of wiretaps has inspired Europol to organize the training
of police and prosecutors in these methods, and to alter their approach to
better combat organized crime.
Oxford Research Team comprised:
- Federico Varese — Lecturer in Criminology (2003-2006), Professor of
- Paolo Campana — Research Associate (Mar-Nov 2007), Postdoctoral
- Tom Snijders — Professor of Social Statistics at the University of
In his first major publication, The Russian Mafia: Private Protection
in a New Market Economy (2001) [Section 3: R1], Professor
Federico Varese tested whether the birth of the Russian Mafia was caused
by a flawed transition to the market economy. From 2003 onwards, he
explored an under-theorised aspect within criminology, namely the reasons
that account for the migration of crime groups outside of their territory
of origin. More broadly, this work addresses the relationship between
globalization and crime.
The research — culminating in a major book [R2] — is based on
extensive field interviews and data collection in Italy, the United
States, Russia, Hungary, and China. Matched comparisons are deployed to
explain why mafias sometimes succeed at conquering new territories, while
at other times they fail. An example is the movement of the Calabrese
`Ndrangheta clan in the 1960s to both Bardonecchia (Piedmont) and Verona
(Veneto). The `Ndrangheta achieved long-term success in the former, but
failed to become established in the latter.
The book concludes that mafias do not move outside their territories in
order to take advantage of globalization, as the literature has claimed.
Instead, mafiosi are forced out either by internal conflict, by police
action, or occasionally to escape poverty. They succeed in creating
established outposts where their arrival coincides with significant
expansions in local markets (such as construction) that are not properly
governed by legitimate institutions of authority. These findings vindicate
the insight that mafias are a form of governance of local markets, using
violence for the benefit of market incumbents, yet they account for the
fact that mafias do exist outside of their territory, an outcome denied by
previous researchers (e.g. Gambetta, 1993).
Research for the book unearthed transcripts of wiretaps produced during
an Italian investigation into a Russian mafia group. These transcripts
recorded 758 conversations among 164 people, providing unprecedented
insights into their routine activities. While similar transcripts have
been read selectively by scholars in the past, Varese spelled out general
validity and reliability issues related to these data, and applied
advanced quantitative techniques to the entire corpus of transcripts [R3].
In the Trends in Organized Crime paper [R3] Varese and
Campana outline the general criteria for using this kind of data, while,
in his book and two further papers, Varese [R2, R4 and R5] uses
quantitative content analysis, multiple correspondence analysis, and
network analysis to analyze these data. This innovative combination of
techniques enables Varese to link the content of the conversations to the
attributes of the speakers, and to the structure of the network. In
further work with Campana [R6], Varese uses statistical modelling
techniques developed among others by Tom Snijders, to trace the evolution
of the network through time and test hypotheses on tie formation.
Using these techniques, Varese showed that this Russian mafia group in
Italy had a well-developed hierarchical organization, with an internal
division of labour, and that women played a significant role in managing
the group [R4]. The group`s core business activities remained in
Russia, while the Italian branch was primarily concerned with laundering
money and monitoring its investments [R3]. This work is the first
to reconstruct the internal structure of a crime group on the basis of
what people do, and more generally it shows that crime groups are
References to the research
[R1] Federico Varese, 2001, The Russian Mafia: Private
Protection in a New Market Economy, Oxford University Press.
- Winner, Ed Hewitt Prize, Am. Ass. for Slavic Studies, translated in
Polish and Dutch.
- Widely reviewed.
- 353 citations (Google Scholar).
[R2] Federico Varese, 2011, Mafias on the Move: How Organized
Crime Conquers New Territories, Princeton University Press; ISBN
- Outstanding Publication Prize, awarded annually by the International
Association for the Study of Organized Crime.
- `intellectually absorbing .... it offers public-policy-oriented readers
insights into the importance of ill-designed property right legislation
and poor legal implementation and some familiar warnings about the risks
of repressive moral prohibitionism' (American Journal of Sociology);
`All will certainly appreciate the thought-provoking analysis' (British
Journal of Criminology).
- translated into Italian (Einaudi, 2011).
- cited 63 times (Google Scholar).
[R3] Paolo Campana and Federico Varese, 2012, `Listening to
the Wire: Criteria and Techniques for the Quantitative Analysis of Phone
Intercepts', Trends in Organized Crime, vol. 14, pp. 1-18; DOI
- cited 13 times (Google Scholar)
[R4] Federico Varese, 2012, `How Mafias Take Advantage of
Globalization: The Russian Mafia in Italy', British Journal of
Criminology, vol. 52, pp. 235-53; REF2
- journal has 5-year impact factor of 2.1 (IS); cited 12 times (Google
[R5] Federico Varese, 2013, `The Structure of Criminal
Connections: The Russian Mafia in Italy', European Sociological Review,
online, DOI 10.1093/esr/jcs067; REF2
- journal has 5-year impact factor of 1.9 (ISI); cited 3 times (Google
[R6] P Campana, F. Varese, `Kinship and Violence as Credible
Commitments in Criminal Organizations: an Empirical Test', Rationality
and Society, 25(3): 263-289.
Federico Varese, `A New Agenda for European Security Economics
(EUSECON)', European Commission FP7, January 2008 to April 2012, €133,100.
Federico Varese, `Criminal Behaviours and Trust-Based Regulation in
Europe', part of `New European Crimes and Trust-based Policy (FIDUCIA)',
European Commission, February 2012 to January 2014, €200,840.
Details of the impact
The impact of Varese`s research extends across several countries.
Findings from the research have reshaped policies to combat transnational
crime, while the methods have been incorporated into the training and
practices of police forces and prosecutors in a number of different
The UK`s Cabinet Office, and Office of the Prime Minister, invited Varese
to join the Strategic Review of Serious Organized Crime, in 2009, because
his work had come to the attention of the Chairman of SOCA [Section 5:
C1]. As one of two academics on the review, he shared the insights
from his research on the factors enabling mafias to migrate across
borders, ensuring that his research contributed directly to the panel`s
recommendations [C1]. In particular, Varese`s research confirming
the localized nature of organized crime led to recognition that a national
agency devoid of links to local policing units would be less effective.
Recommendations based on Varese`s research [culminating in R2]
were implemented after the 2010 election, when the new government
announced that the Serious and Organized Crime Agency would be merged into
a newly created organization, the National Crime Agency, much more
embedded in local policing.
As a consequence of several analysts attending one of Varese`s lectures
in the United States, Public Safety Canada (equivalent to the UK`s Home
Office) commissioned a paper on Varese`s work (written by Ottawa
University Professor of Criminology R. Hastings (2006)), and then employed
Varese as a consultant in 2010 to discuss the implications of his research
for migration and the risks of organized crime. He addressed the chief
civil servant in each ministry dealing with crime and migration [C2].
Varese`s analysis [R2] informed the government`s review of
priorities, emphasizing that crime was not caused by migration, but rather
by the sudden expansion of unregulated markets, and the development of a
demand for informal or criminal protection. As demonstrated in Varese`s
research [R2], undocumented migrants might seek protection from
mafia-like organizations when criminalized.
Varese`s research also held particular relevancy for policymakers in
Italy. Two prosecutors from the Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission,
reporting to the Parliament`s Joint Committee on the Mafia in 2011, cited
Mafias on the Move as `extremely significant' [C3]. A
Member of Parliament then quizzed the prosecutors on Varese`s explanation
for which cities are more vulnerable to penetration by the mafia. In
addition, the book was cited in proceedings to remove one Member of
Parliament`s immunity from criminal prosecution. The Member who initiated
the proceedings described Varese`s research on the mafia`s mechanisms of
penetration of the legal economy as `the most up-to-date and scrupulous
Practitioners — police and prosecutors:
The widest impact on the practices of police and prosecutors has occurred
within two European institutions, Europol and Eurojust.
Europol helps police forces fight against serious international
crime and terrorism. When Europol hosted a training symposium for 120
crime analysts from Europe and the United States (organized by the
International Association of Crime Analysts) in April 2012, they invited
Varese (based on their awareness of his research) to give a keynote
lecture on techniques for the quantitative analysis of telephone
intercepts. Europol then invited Varese`s co-researcher, Campana, to
provide a two-day hands-on workshop at the Hague in September 2012. He
taught 25 crime analysts how to apply network and correspondence analysis
techniques developed by Varese [R3, R4, R5] to the evidence
already collected by their police forces. A letter from a Senior Analyst
at Europol confirms the value of Campana`s training of Europol`s strategic
analysts [C6]. In addition, Varese and Campana advised on the way
Europol collects data for its biennial Organised Crime Threat
Assessment [C6]. This advice led to a major restructuring of
Europol data collection strategy. Relationships initiated through Europol
have now developed between the two researchers and national police forces.
One such force (which cannot be identified because its investigation is
ongoing) sent two police analysts to Oxford in May 2013 to spend two days
learning network analysis from Campana.
Eurojust helps judicial systems investigate serious cross-border
and organized crime. After an initial meeting with Varese and Campana, the
organization`s Case Management Analyst invited Campana to the Hague in May
2012 to improve data collection on the prosecution of transnational crime.
He recommended augmenting the data to include the outcome of each case
prosecuted: whether the accused was convicted and, if convicted, the
sentence imposed. This enabled Eurojust to evaluate whether transnational
crimes should be prosecuted in a single country or in multiple countries,
depending on the type of crime and the type of judicial system. Eurojust
incorporated Campana`s advice into the organization`s strategic plan [C7].
Furthermore, Italian prosecutors operating in the areas studied by Varese
have stated that his research is `particularly relevant' in identifying
conditions that lead to mafia penetration [C5].
Beyond policy and practices, Varese`s research on the Russian
mafia`s migration to Western Europe informs the plot of John le Carré`s
novel, Our Kind of Traitor. The author acknowledges him:
`heartfelt thanks ... for his creative and ever-patient counsel' [C8].
The novel sold 132,000 copies in the United Kingdom in 2011, making it the
89th bestselling book.
Sources to corroborate the impact
[C1] Deputy Director of Home Affairs, Prime Minister`s Strategy
Unit: letter of 23 February 2009
- appoints Varese to Strategic Review of Serious Organized Crime.
[C2] Manager of Research and Academic Relations, Strategic Policy
Branch, Public Safety Canada
- will testify to the impact of Varese`s research on Canadian policy.
[C3] Senato della Repubbica e Camera dei Deputati, Commissione
parlamentare d'inchiesta sul sul fenomeno della mafia e sulle altre
associazioni criminali, resoconto stenografico no 79, 21 June 2011:
testimony by two prosecutors and a Member of the Chamber of Deputies;
See p. 8, p. 20, p. 21.
[C4] Camera dei deputati, Relazione della giunta per le
autorizzazioni sulla domanda di autorizzazione a eseguire la misura
cautelare della custodia in carcere nei confronti del deputato Cosentino,
Doc IV, no 26A, 6 December 2011: Report on Cosentino Arrest Request by
Marilena Sampieri (Member of the Chamber of Deputies);
[C5] Deputy Head, Prosecutor's Office, Turin, Italy: letter of 18
- confirms the role of Varese`s research in identifying conditions that
lead to mafia penetration.
[C6] Senior Analyst, Europol, The Hague, Netherlands: letter of 12
- discusses impact of Varese`s research at operational/strategic
intelligence analysis as well as policy level; testifies to the value of
Campana`s training of strategic analysts on social science research
methods (i.e. survey, content and correspondence analysis), and of an
informal consultation and feedback on the methodology of the Serious and
Organised Threat Assessment.
[C7] Head of Case Management Unit, Eurojust, The Hague,
- will testify to the impact of Varese`s and Campana`s research for
[C8] John le Carré, Our Kind of Traitor, Penguin, 2011,
- Varese`s research is the first acknowledgement (p. 309).