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Calls grow for release of Yulia Tymoshenko as petitions approach 100,000 on White House website

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Imprisoned Ukraine former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is approaching 100,000 e-signatures supporting her on the White House e-Petition website - reaching this target will prompt a response from US President Barack Obama.

It comes on the heels of another petition filed on 26 November 2013 that asked Obama to impose sanctions against President Viktor Yanukovych and top Ukrainian officials for backtracking on European integration policies. It gathered 119,000 signatures in just five days, surpassing the 100,000-signature threshold to elicit an official response from the White House.

Tymoshenko has previously received letters of support from Hilary Clinton - many critics believe Tymoshenko, the opposition leader, is a political prisoner, conveniently locked away by President Viktor Yanukovych to prevent her standing in the 2015 presidential elections, and Tymoshenko's arrest was found illegal by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in 2013.

British Prime Minister David Cameron boycotted the early stages of Euro 2012 in the Ukraine in protest against Tymoshenko's imprisonment.

After successfully meeting the threshold to elicit a response for a petition asking US President Barack Obama to impose visa and financial sanctions against President Viktor Yanukovych, a new application for action is circulating. Begun on 29 November, the online petition asks the US leader to support the peaceful overthrow of the Ukrainian government. Launched on petitions.whitehouse.gov, it has already received around 48,000 online signatures.

Other petitions were started in parallel also asking the U.S. government to impose sanctions against the Yanukovych administration and prevent forceful crackdowns. Some were started on 30 November after the Ukrainian police used force to disperse demonstrators in Kyiv, using truncheons and physical violence, sending dozens to the hospital. They have already gathered from 1,500 to 8,000 signatures online.

The US Embassy and State Department have already officially condemned the  30 November police violence. In a statement posted on its website the same day the embassy said: “We urge the government of Ukraine to respect the rights of civil society and the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, which are fundamental to the democratic values that are the bedrock of our strategic partnership. We support the rights of citizens to air their views through an open and free media and through non-violent rallies.”

European officials were also outraged. "The use of force against peaceful demonstrators in Ukraine is simply unacceptable," European Parliament President Martin Schulz tweeted.

Meanwhile, MEP and Eastern Partnership vice chairman Jacek Saryusz-Wolski shared in his twitter a link to another petition of Ukrainians asking for sanctions against Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs.

As another major demonstration started on 12 January at noon, US and EU ambassadors have asked the Interior Ministry to avoid the use of force and to ensure security at the event.

“[Concerning]  the demonstration scheduled to take place on Sunday at 12:00, we called on the Ministry of the Interior to make all efforts to avoid escalations, refrain from excessive use of force and to effectively protect the security and the freedom of peaceful assembly of all citizens,” the ambassadors said.

Crime

Fight against ransomware: New website to get help faster marks five years of ‘No More Ransom' initiative that helped over six million victims recover their data

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Europol, the EU law enforcement agency, has marked five years of its ‘No More Ransom' project with a revamped website that allows easy access to decryption tools and other help in over 30 languages. The initiative supplies ransomware victims with decryption tools to recover their encrypted files, helps them report cases to law enforcement authorities and contributes to raising awareness about ransomware. Since its launch five years ago, the project has already helped more than six million victims worldwide and prevented criminals from making almost a billion euro in profits.

The Commission is a partner of the project, together with tech companies, law enforcement, and public and private sector entities. Ransomware is a type of malware that locks users' computers and encrypts their data. The criminals behind the malware demand a ransom from the user in order to regain control over the affected device or files. Ransomware represents a growing threat, affecting all sectors including energy infrastructure or health care. Protecting European citizens and businesses against cyber threats, including against ransomware, is a priority for the Commission. You will find more information in the press release published by Europol.

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Crime

Beating financial crime: Commission overhauls anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism rules

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The European Commission has presented an ambitious package of legislative proposals to strengthen the EU's anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing (AML/CFT) rules. The package also includes the proposal for the creation of a new EU authority to fight money laundering. This package is part of the Commission's commitment to protect EU citizens and the EU's financial system from money laundering and terrorist financing. The aim of this package is to improve the detection of suspicious transactions and activities, and to close loopholes used by criminals to launder illicit proceeds or finance terrorist activities through the financial system.

As recalled in the EU's Security Union Strategy for 2020-2025, enhancing the EU's framework for anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing will also help to protect Europeans from terrorism and organised crime.

The measures greatly enhance the existing EU framework by taking into account new and emerging challenges linked to technological innovation. These include virtual currencies, more integrated financial flows in the Single Market and the global nature of terrorist organisations. These proposals will help to create a much more consistent framework to ease compliance for operators subject to AML/CFT rules, especially for those active cross-border.

Today's package consists of four legislative proposals:

An Economy that Works for People Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said: “Every fresh money laundering scandal is one scandal too many – and a wake-up call that our work to close the gaps in our financial system is not yet done. We have made huge strides in recent years and our EU AML rules are now among the toughest in the world. But they now need to be applied consistently and closely supervised to make sure they really bite. This is why we are today taking these bold steps to close the door on money laundering and stop criminals from lining their pockets with ill-gotten gains.”

A new EU AML Authority (AMLA)

At the heart of today's legislative package is the creation of a new EU Authority which will transform AML/CFT supervision in the EU and enhance cooperation among Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs). The new EU-level Anti-Money Laundering Authority (AMLA) will be the central authority coordinating national authorities to ensure the private sector correctly and consistently applies EU rules. AMLA will also support FIUs to improve their analytical capacity around illicit flows and make financial intelligence a key source for law enforcement agencies.

In particular, AMLA will:

  • Establish a single integrated system of AML/CFT supervision across the EU, based on common supervisory methods and convergence of high supervisory standards;
  • directly supervise some of the riskiest financial institutions that operate in a large number of member states or require immediate action to address imminent risks;
  • monitor and coordinate national supervisors responsible for other financial entities, as well as coordinate supervisors of non-financial entities, and;
  • support co-operation among national Financial Intelligence Units and facilitate coordination and joint analyses between them, to better detect illicit financial flows of a cross-border nature.

A Single EU Rulebook for AML/CFT

The Single EU Rulebook for AML/CFT will harmonize AML/CFT rules across the EU, including, for example, more detailed rules on Customer Due Diligence, Beneficial Ownership and the powers and task of supervisors and Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs). Existing national registers of bank accounts will be connected, providing faster access for FIUs to information on bank accounts and safe deposit boxes. The Commission will also provide law enforcement authorities with access to this system, speeding up financial investigations and the recovery of criminal assets in cross-border cases. Access to financial information will be subject to robust safeguards in Directive (EU) 2019/1153 on exchange of financial information.

Full application of the EU AML/CFT rules to the crypto sector

At present, only certain categories of crypto-asset service providers are included in the scope of EU AML/CFT rules. The proposed reform will extend these rules to the entire crypto sector, obliging all service providers to conduct due diligence on their customers. Today's amendments will ensure full traceability of crypto-asset transfers, such as Bitcoin, and will allow for prevention and detection of their possible use for money laundering or terrorism financing. In addition, anonymous crypto asset wallets will be prohibited, fully applying EU AML/CFT rules to the crypto sector.

EU-wide limit of €10,000 on large cash payments

Large cash payments are an easy way for criminals to launder money, since it is very difficult to detect transactions. That is why the Commission has today proposed an EU-wide limit of €10,000 on large cash payments. This EU-wide limit is high enough not to put into question the euro as legal tender and recognises the vital role of cash. Limits already exist in about two-thirds of Member States, but amounts vary. National limits under €10,000 can remain in place. Limiting large cash payments makes it harder for criminals to launder dirty money. In addition, providing anonymous crypto-asset wallets will be prohibited, just as anonymous bank accounts are already prohibited by EU AML/CFT rules.

Third countries

Money laundering is a global phenomenon that requires strong international cooperation. The Commission already works closely with its international partners to combat the circulation of dirty money around the globe. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog, issues recommendations to countries. A country that is listed by FATF will also be listed by the EU. There will be two EU lists, a “black-list” and a “grey-list, reflecting the FATF listing. Following the listing, the EU will apply measures proportionate to the risks posed by the country. The EU will also be able to list countries which are not listed by FATF, but which pose a threat to the EU's financial system based on an autonomous assessment.

The diversity of the tools that the Commission and AMLA can use will allow the EU to keep pace with a fast-moving and complex international environment with rapidly evolving risks.

Next steps

The legislative package will now be discussed by the European Parliament and Council. The Commission looks forward to a speedy legislative process. The future AML Authority should be operational in 2024 and will start its work of direct supervision slightly later, once the Directive has been transposed and the new regulatory framework starts to apply.

Background

The complex issue of tackling dirty money flows is not new. The fight against money laundering and terrorist financing is vital for financial stability and security in Europe. Legislative gaps in one Member State have an impact on the EU as a whole. That is why EU rules must be implemented and supervised efficiently and consistently to combat crime and protect our financial system. Ensuring the efficiency and consistency of the EU AML framework is of the utmost importance. Today's legislative package implements the commitments in our Action Plan for a comprehensive Union policy on preventing money laundering and terrorism financing which was adopted by the Commission on 7 May 2020.

The EU framework against money laundering also includes the regulation on the mutual recognition of freezing and confiscation orders, the directive on combating money laundering by criminal law, the directive laying down rules on the use of financial and other information to combat serious crimesthe European Public Prosecutor's Office, and the European system of financial supervision.

More information

Anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism

Proposal on centralized bank account registeries

Questions and Answers

Factsheet

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European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF)

Fraud against the environment: OLAF and Spanish authorities bust traffic in illicit F-gases

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The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the Spanish authorities dismantled a criminal organization trafficking in illicit refrigerant gases, which are notoriously harmful for the climate. Operation Verbena led to the seizure of 27 tonnes of illicit refrigerant gases – also called F-gases or hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – and to the arrest of five people.

Operation Verbena was the biggest operation yet at EU-level against the trafficking of refrigerant gases. In addition to the 27 tonnes seized, investigations discovered 180 tonnes of illicit HFCs that were smuggled before the intervention of the Spanish authorities and OLAF. According to estimates, the criminal group is responsible for the emission of over 234,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the environment – that is roughly equivalent to a car driving all the way around the globe almost 9,000 times. Operation Verbena – which put a halt to these activities – was carried out by the Spanish Police and the Spanish Tax Agency, with support from OLAF.

HFCs are commonly used in refrigerated units and while importing them into the EU is allowed, given their significant carbon footprint imports are subject to strict quotas and regulations. According to investigations, the criminal group smuggled the gases into Spain from China by providing false information in the relevant customs documentation. The HFCs were then sold on to companies in Spain, Germany, France, Portugal and Senegal.

OLAF Director-General Ville Itälä said: "As we have been witnessing with increasing frequency, fraud and smuggling can have collateral victims such as the environment or people’s health and safety. OLAF has been working against illicit refrigerant gases for a few years now. A key element of our work is the cooperation with national authorities, with whom we continuously share our intelligence. I am pleased that we could support this successful operation by the Spanish authorities. Our cooperation with them has been, as ever, excellent and I would like to congratulate them on their results."

More information is available (in Spanish) in the press release of the Spanish Police.

Video footage of the seizure for media use is also available for download.

OLAF mission, mandate and competences

OLAF’s mission is to detect, investigate and stop fraud with EU funds.

OLAF fulfils its mission by:

·                carrying out independent investigations into fraud and corruption involving EU funds, so as to ensure that all EU taxpayers’ money reaches projects that can create jobs and growth in Europe;

·                contributing to strengthening citizens’ trust in the EU Institutions by investigating serious misconduct by EU staff and members of the EU Institutions;

·                 developing a sound EU anti-fraud policy.

In its independent investigative function, OLAF can investigate matters relating to fraud, corruption and other offences affecting the EU financial interests concerning:

·                all EU expenditure: the main spending categories are Structural Funds, agricultural policy and rural

development funds, direct expenditure and external aid;

·                 some areas of EU revenue, mainly customs duties;

·                 suspicions of serious misconduct by EU staff and members of the EU institutions.

Once OLAF has completed its investigation, it is for the competent EU and national authorities to examine and decide on the follow-up of OLAF’s recommendations. All persons concerned are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a competent national or EU court of law.

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