New rules to speed up the freezing and confiscation of criminal assets across the EU were adopted by the Civil Liberties committee on Tuesday (10 July).
This legislation, already informally agreed between Parliament and Council negotiators on 14 June, should make it quicker and simpler for EU member states to ask each other to freeze criminal assets or confiscate criminal property.
Parliament and Council negotiators agreed on:
- Introduction of deadlines: an EU country that receives a confiscation order from another EU country will have 45 days to execute the order; cross-border freezing orders have to be executed with the same speed and priority as national ones. Authorities will have four days to freeze the assets in the case of urgent freezing requests;
- standard documents: standard certificates and forms will be used to ensure that EU countries act faster and communicate more efficiently;
- wider scope: where requested, EU countries will be able to confiscate assets from other people connected to the criminal and they can also act in cases where there is no conviction (e.g. if the suspect has fled), and;
- victims’ rights: victims will be the first in line to receive compensation when distributing confiscated assets.
Depriving criminals of their assets is an important tool for fighting organized crime and terrorism. However, currently only an estimated 1.1% of criminal profits are confiscated in the EU.
Rapporteur Nathalie Griesbeck (ALDE, FR) said: “I’m glad that this regulation has been adopted; it is the product of constructive work between the EU institutions. The Parliament made sure that the new instrument is faster, more efficient, more operational and also fairer for the victims, for all those affected and based on the respect for fundamental rights.”
Civil Liberties MEPs adopted the new rules by 43 in favour, two against, one abstention.
The agreed text now needs to be formally approved by the Parliament as a whole and the Council before entering into force. The new rules will apply 24 months after their entry into force.
According to a Europol study from 2016, 98.9% of estimated criminal profits in the EU are not confiscated and remain at the disposal of criminals. Between, 2010 and 2014, 2.2% of estimated criminal profits were provisionally seized or frozen but only 1.1% were finally confiscated at EU level.
Spanish and UK police forces recover €6 million in two-year long Ponzi scheme investigation
Hundreds of victims of a €15 million Ponzi scheme may soon recover up to 40% of their losses as a result of an international law enforcement effort to recover the ill-gotten funds.
The co-operation between the Spanish regional Catalan Police (Mossos d’Esquadra) and the UK West Yorkshire Police, facilitated by Europol, has made it possible for the Spanish authorities to recover over €6 million in the framework of an investigation into a Ponzi scheme exceeding €15m with more than 200 victims.
An investigation was launched at the beginning of March 2019 after a complaint was filed in Gerona, Spain, after the main suspect disappeared. Several other complaints soon followed, describing a pyramid fraud committed by the missing suspect, a Spanish national residing in the UK who duped his victims into investing in seemingly secure investments with high returns.
Returning stolen funds
Timely investigative support is vital in asset recovery cases that cross multiple borders in order to locate, freeze, confiscate and finally repatriate stolen assets.
Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC) supported the case from the onset and brought together the Spanish and British investigators at its headquarters to discuss procedural requirements and identify a clear way forward. Its asset recovery experts there after organised the intensive exchange of information needed to prepare for the confiscation of the ill-gotten assets.
The asset recovery approach which was in this case a major angle of the investigation clearly paid off: over £642 000 was held in UK bank accounts from the outset and frozen to ensure it was secured for confiscation. The British investigators were also able to successfully trace back a consequent amount of the diverted funds which had been invested in online gambling companies, a luxury vehicle, jewellery and IT equipment.
After two years of intense cooperation, the West Yorkshire Police transferred at the end of April 2021 more than €6 million to the Spanish judicial authorities to be used, if the judicial process so decides, to compensate the victims. The main suspect has been custody since 2019 by order of the Court of Gerona.
Confiscation is a strategic priority in the EU's fight against organised crime. The recovery of proceeds from crime deprives criminals of what they have strived to acquire and strengthens the notion that “crime should not pay”. The faster the tracing of assets derived from crime is, the more effective the confiscation and recovery of criminal profits can be. Europol’s EFECC helps investigators across Europe in identifying assets that have been illegally acquired on their territories and facilitates the exchanges of relevant information at European level.
Four arrested in takedown of dark web child abuse platform with some half a million users
Four have been arrested in a multi-agency operation sparked by a German investigation into one of Europe’s most prolific child sexual abuse platforms on the dark web. These arrests were made in Germany (3) and Paraguay (1) earlier this month. The arrested individuals – all German nationals, had various roles in relation to the site seized. The dark web platform, known as Boystown, has been taken down by an international taskforce set up by the German Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt) which included Europol and law enforcement agencies from the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Canada and the United States. This site focused on the sexual abuse of children and had 400 ,00 registered users when it was taken down. Several other chat sites on the dark web used by child sexual offenders were also seized on the same occasion. The case illustrates what Europol is seeing in child sexual abuse offending: online child offender communities on the dark web exhibit considerable resilience in response to law enforcement actions targeting them.
Their reactions include resurrecting old communities, establishing new communities, and making strong efforts to organise and administer them. The image and video data seized during this investigation will be used for Victim Identification Taskforces organised on a regular basis at Europol. More arrests and rescues are to be expected globally as police worldwide examine the intelligence packages compiled by Europol.
The following authorities took part in this investigation: Germany: Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt) The Netherlands: National Police (Politie) Sweden: National Police (Polisen) Australia: Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Queensland Police Service (QPS) United States: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Canada: Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Better Regulation: Joining forces to make better EU laws and to prepare for the future
The Commission has adopted a Communication on Better Regulation, proposing several improvements to the EU law-making process. To foster Europe's recovery, it is more important than ever to legislate as efficiently as possible, while making EU laws better adapted to tomorrow's needs.
Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight Vice President Maroš Šefčovič (pictured) said: “The Commission already has one of the best Better Regulation systems in the world but we still need to do more. Therefore, we are stepping up efforts to simplify EU legislation and reduce its burden, while making better use of strategic foresight and supporting sustainability and digitalisation. To succeed, however, all stakeholders must work together on high-quality EU policymaking that will translate into a stronger, more resilient Europe.''
Cooperation among the EU institutions, with member states and stakeholders, including social partners, businesses and civil society, is key. To help face current and future challenges, the Commission has proposed the following actions:
- Removing obstacles and red tape that slow down investments and building of 21st century infrastructure, working with member states, regions and key stakeholders.
- Simplifying public consultations by introducing a single ‘Call for Evidence', on the improved Have Your Say portal.
- Introducing a ‘one in, one out' approach, to minimise burdens for citizens and businesses by paying special attention to the implications and costs of applying legislation, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. This principle ensures that any newly introduced burdens are offset by removing equivalent burdens in the same policy area.
- Mainstreaming the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, to ensure that all legislative proposals contribute to the 2030 sustainable development agenda.
- Improving the way in which Better Regulation addresses and supports sustainability and digital transformation.
- Integrating strategic foresight into policymaking to ensure it is fit for the future, by for instance, taking into account emerging megatrends in the green, digital, geopolitical and socio-economic contexts.
Better Regulation is a shared objective and responsibility of all EU institutions. We will reach out to the European Parliament and the Council regarding their efforts to assess and monitor the impact of EU legislation and EU spending programmes. In addition, we will cooperate more closely with local, regional and national authorities, and social partners on EU policymaking.
Some of the new elements of this Communication have already started in practice, such as the work of the Fit for Future Platform, which provides advice on ways to make EU legislation easier to comply with, efficient and fit for the future. Others will be implemented in the coming months. This year will see, among other things:
- The 2020 Annual Burden Survey, outlining the results of the Commission's burden reduction efforts.
- The revised Better Regulation guidelines and toolbox to take into account the new elements of the Communication, providing concrete guidance to European Commission services when preparing new initiatives and proposals as well as when managing and evaluating existing
The Commission carried out a stocktaking of its better regulation agenda in 2019, confirming that the system is broadly functioning well, while needing improvements to reflect experience.
The EU has a long history on evidence-based policymaking, including reducing regulatory burdens, starting in 2002. It includes regular evaluations of existing laws, a very advanced system of impact assessment, a top of the class stakeholders' consultation approach and a comprehensive burden reduction programme (REFIT).
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