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Criminals prospering during EU crisis

THE HAGUE — While the European Union’s citizens are struggling to cope with the economic crisis, the continent’s criminals are cashing in.

The EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol, said Tuesday that some 3,600 organized crime gangs are exploiting the crisis and the increasingly interconnected world to ‘‘generate illicit profits at low risk’’ while also continuing to mine their more traditional illegal markets of drug smuggling and human trafficking.

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The agency said in its annual Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessment that criminals are broadening counterfeiting operations to include not just cheap knockoffs of high-end luxury items but also foods and medical products.

‘‘Commodity counterfeiting, illicit trade in substandard goods, and goods violating health and safety regulations are major emerging criminal markets in the EU,’’ the report said. ‘‘Reduced consumer spending power has inspired counterfeiters to expand into new product lines.’’

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