In June 2020, Europol supported two separate operations, which led to the dismantling of two illegal print shops for currency counterfeiting, one for euros and one for Romanian leu. Columbian Technical Investigation Unit (Cuerpo Tehnico de Investigacion) and Spanish Police (Policia National) targeted euro counterfeiters in Spain and the Romanian police (Poliția Română) took down one of the biggest polymer banknotes counterfeiters.
Production prevented in Spain
On 17 June 2020, an action day in Spain led to the arrests of the two main suspects. During the house searches, law enforcement officers found a significant amount of equipment and raw material. The seizures indicate that the illegal print shop had the initial capacity to print about 300,000 counterfeit euro banknotes. Samples of €20 and €50 were found and seized. The investigation uncovered that the two suspects, Colombian nationals, known by the Colombian authorities for similar activities, have moved to Spain to set up a new production-line of euro counterfeits. The cooperation between Colombian and Spanish authorities, supported by Europol, enabled the early monitoring of the criminal activity and the prevention of a significant amount of counterfeit euros potentially entering the EU monetary circuit. In addition to Europol’s financial and analytical support throughout the investigation, a Europol expert was deployed to Spain during the action day to support the field activities.
One of the highest quality counterfeiter of polymer banknotes arrested in Romania
On 24 June 2020, the Romanian police searched five houses and took in three suspects for interrogation. In the house of the main suspect investigators discovered an illegal print shop. The seizures they made include machinery such as UV-inkjet printer and cutting devices, different tools for counterfeiting, approximately 400 pieces of 100 Leu counterfeits for a total value of about €8,000, unfinished counterfeit banknotes and raw materials. The counterfeits were made on a polymer material and included all security features detectable by the public, making the identification of the fakes almost impossible for non-experts. The start of production dates back to 2014 when the first high quality polymer banknote appeared in circulation in Romania. Since then, 17,065 counterfeit banknotes have been detected causing a financial damage of about €352,500. A Europol expert supported the Romanian authorities during the raid and the house searches, and provided with specialized expertise in currency counterfeiting on the spot.
Currency counterfeiting falls under the new European Financial and Economic Crime Centre recently created at Europol. Europol, as the EU Central Office for combating euro counterfeiting, provides all possible support to the EU member states and its other co-operating partners to achieve the most effective enforcement in the field of the protection of the euro against counterfeiting.
Europol supports Spain and US in dismantling money-laundering organized crime
Europol have supported the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) and the US Drug Enforcement Administration to dismantle an organized crime group laundering money for major South American cartels.
The criminal network was involved in debt collection and laundering of money coming from drug trafficking. They also provided so-called hitman services involving contract killings, threats and violence targeted at other criminal groups. The criminal organisation used the network of hitmen to collect payments across Spain from other criminal groups buying drugs from the South American cartels to redistribute them locally. The investigation identified also a number of ‘front men’ acquiring luxurious goods for the lifestyles of the group’s leaders. This was only a small part of a large money-laundering scheme that traded high-end cars and used smurfing techniques to place criminal profits into the financial system.
- 4 suspects arrested (Colombian, Spanish and Venezuelan nationals)
- 7 suspects charged with criminal offences
- 1 company charged with a criminal offence
- 3 home searches in Spain
- Seizures of high-end cars, luxury items, firearms and ammunition
Europol facilitated the information exchange and provided analytical support during the whole investigation.
Headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, Europol supports the 27 EU member states in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organized forms of crime. It also works with many non-EU partner states and international organizations. From its various threat assessments to its intelligence-gathering and operational activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to do its part in making Europe safer.
European Audit Institutions pool their work on cybersecurity
As the threat level for cybercrime and cyberattacks has been rising over recent years, auditors across the European Union have been paying increasing attention to the resilience of critical information systems and digital infrastructures. The Audit Compendium on cybersecurity, published today by the Contact Committee of EU supreme audit institutions (SAIs), provides an overview of their relevant audit work in this field.
Cyber incidents may be intentional or unintentional and range from the accidental disclosure of information to attacks on businesses and critical infrastructure, the theft of personal data, or even interference in democratic processes, including elections, and general disinformation campaigns to influence public debates. Cybersecurity was already critical for our societies before COVID-19 hit. But the consequences of the pandemic we are facing will further exacerbate cyber threats. Many business activities and public services have moved from physical offices to teleworking, while ‘fake news’ and conspiracy theories have spread more than ever.
Protecting critical information systems and digital infrastructures against cyberattacks has thus become an ever-growing strategic challenge for the EU and its member states. The question is no longer whether cyberattacks will occur, but how and when they will occur. This concerns us all: individuals, businesses and public authorities.
“The COVID-19 crisis has been testing the economic and social fabric of our societies. Given our dependence on information technology, a ‘cyber crisis’ could well turn out to be the next pandemic“, said European Court of Auditors (ECA) President Klaus-Heiner Lehne. “Seeking digital autonomy and facing challenges posed by cyber threats and external disinformation campaigns will undoubtedly continue to be part of our daily lives and will remain on the political agenda in the next decade. It is therefore essential to raise awareness of recent audit findings on cybersecurity across the EU member states.”
European SAIs have therefore geared up their audit work on cybersecurity recently, with a particular focus on data protection, system readiness for cyberattacks, and the protection of essential public utilities systems. This has to be set in a context in which the EU is aiming to become the world’s safest digital environment. The European Commission and the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in fact, have just presented a new EU Cybersecurity Strategy, which aims to bolster Europe's collective resilience against cyber threats.
The Compendium published on 17 December provides background information on cybersecurity, main strategic initiatives and relevant legal bases in the EU. It also illustrates the main challenges the EU and its member states are facing, such as threats to individual EU citizens´ rights through misuse of personal data, the risk for institutions of not being able to deliver essential public services or facing limited performance following cyberattacks.
The Compendium draws on the results of audits carried out by the ECA and the SAIs of twelve EU member states: Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Finland and Sweden.
This audit Compendium is a product of co-operation between the SAIs of the EU and its member states within the framework of the EU Contact Committee. It is designed to be a source of information for everyone interested in this important policy field. It is currently available in English on the EU Contact Committee website, and will later be available in other EU languages.
This is the third edition of the Contact Committee’s Audit Compendium. The first edition on Youth unemployment and the integration of young people into the labour market was published in June 2018. The second on Public health in the EU was issued in December 2019.
The Contact Committee is an autonomous, independent and non-political assembly of the heads of SAIs of the EU and its member states. It provides a forum for discussing and addressing matters of common interest relating to the EU. By strengthening dialogue and co-operation between its members, the Contact Committee contributes to an effective and independent external audit of EU policies and programmes
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