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U.N.: Crime is one of world's "top 20 economies"

(CBS/AP) VIENNA - Criminality worldwide generates proceeds in the trillions of dollars each year, making crime one of the world's "top 20 economies," a senior U.N. official said Monday

With the scope of global crime — and particularly organized crime — threatening emerging economies and fomenting international instability, Yury Fedotov called for concerted world action to combat the trend.

"We need to recognize that the problem requires a global solution," Fedotov, the head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, told reporters outside an international conference focused on preventing the exploitation of illegal migrants and other crimes linked to human trafficking. "No country can handle this problem alone."

Fedotov said that "criminal business" earns those behind it $2.1 trillion — nearly 1.6 trillion euros — a year, which he said is equivalent to nearly 7 percent of the size of the global economy.

Complete speech by Yury Fedotov, Executive Director, UNODC

In a recent UNODC report, global gross proceeds were calculated from such illicit activities as money-laundering (US$1.6 trillion in 2009) and cocaine trafficking (US$84 billion for 2009).

Other criminal enterprises which added to UNODC's $2.1 trillion estimate were counterfeiting; human trafficking; and trafficking in oil, wildlife, timber, fish, art and cultural property, gold, human organs, and small and light weapons). (Criminal proceeds within a national sector, such as burglaries, fraud, loan sharking or protection racketeering, were not included.)

Transnational crime threatens Millennium Development Goals (UNODC)

In separate comments inside the meeting, Fedotov said that as many as 2.4 million people may be victims of human trafficking worldwide at any given time, calling it "a shameful crime of modern-day slavery."

Corruption is another concern of the meeting. Fedotov told the opening session that estimates put the amount of money lost through corruption in developing countries at $40 billion annually.

U.S. delegate Brian A. Nichols said the changed face of organized crime makes prosecution more difficult than in the past.

"Today, most criminal organizations bear no resemblance to the hierarchical organized crime family groups of the past," he told the meeting.

"Instead, they consist of loose and informal networks that often converge when it is convenient and engage in a diverse array of criminal activities, including the smuggling of counterfeit goods, firearms, drugs, humans, and even wildlife to amass their illicit profits."