Case Studies

EU financial crimes threat assessment

by Mark Rowe

Organised crime has built a parallel global criminal economy around money laundering, illicit financial transfers and corruption. With modern technology, they have diversified their modi operandi to evade detection. So said Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle about the European Union policing agency’s first threat assessment of financial and economic crime in the EU.

While the 58-page document does not mention the UK, De Bolle in her foreword spoke of a globalised world, trade, where technology and transport ‘bring us closer together and create economic opportunities and prosperity. However, there is another side to the coin; our interconnected world is misused and abused by criminal actors involved in economic and financial crimes’.

Europol founded in June 2020 the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC). Demand for Europol’s support in asset recovery and financial investigations increases, and skills and services are expanding, De Bolle said.

The document sets out how threats are manifesting themselves and how these crimes impact wider society. “Key players typically remain anonymous and operate independently from established criminal structures, often from criminal havens. Meanwhile, their techniques and tools advance rapidly.”

Criminals are described as adept in exploiting opportunities; targeting more victims than ever, and putting further distance between themselves and their crimes.

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said: “Financial and economic crime, and its scale, is a corrosive force in society. Europol and the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre are part of the solution. This report sets out the increasingly sophisticated methods of organised crime and the European law enforcement successes in fighting back. If EU Member States work together even closer on this fight, we can achieve great results.”

Covered are money laundering, fraud, and intellectual property crime and counterfeiting. Among the analysts’ conclusions is that ‘the limited degree of recovery of criminal assets indicates that criminal networks are successful in retaining and re-investing their illicit proceeds’. Some 4.1 billion euros of criminal assets were seized on average per year in 2020 and 2021 in the EU’s 26 member states, a two-fold increase compared to
earlier estimates; ‘however, it still stands for a small share of what criminal networks are believed to illicitly acquire in terms of financial gain’. Financial investigations are not a standard practice yet throughout EU law enforcement, the analysts say. That organised crime keeps hold of and can re-invest its gains ‘presents a key threat to the internal security of the EU’, for example through corruption, as bribes become ‘a marginal cost’.

The analysts forecast that criminals will ‘become even less confined to specific criminal structures and geographical bases of operation. Crime-as-a-service as the standard business model will bring criminal activities within the reach of more players in the criminal field, functioning as a multiplier for organised crime’. Also predicted are ‘more sophisticated fraud schemes, targeting emerging markets in the green transition’.


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