Organized crime is often defined in sweeping terms. Comments such as "mob-linked" activity, crimes that bear the "earmarks of the mafia," and other suggestive terms do not help differentiate organized crimes from conventional crimes in an objective way. This Module is designed to provide clarity in classifying organized crimes and in distinguishing them from traditional crimes.
The Organized Crime Convention in its article 5 offers States parties two alternative options to criminalize participation in an organized criminal group: conspiracy and criminal association. These offences create criminal liability for persons who intentionally participate in or contribute to the criminal activities of organized criminal groups. They are aimed at tackling organized crime at its core by criminalizing acts that involve participation in or contributions to an organized criminal group. The offences are designed to be preventive, by creating liability distinct from the attempt or completion of the criminal activity. They hold criminally liable those who associate for criminal endeavours, even if they have not yet committed an offence. They can extend criminal liability to situations in which crime is anticipated and likely to occur, but a specific offence has yet to materialize. They apply to groups of persons acting in concert to commit (serious) crime (e.g., provision of illicit goods or services, or infiltration of business or government).
In simple terms, conspiracy is an offence that is based on an agreement to commit crime, whereas criminal association is an offence for participating in the activities of an organized criminal group. Conspiracy is used in common law countries, such as Canada, Myanmar, Pakistan, Uganda and the US, and criminal association is the principle used in civil law countries, such as Algeria, France, Gabon, Germany, Italy, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and Venezuela. Several countries, such as the UK, have elements of both models concurrently.