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Fight against organized crime and #corruption: New rules?

EU Reporter Correspondent

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051112-corruptioneurope-mThe Commission should review its legislation against corruption and organized crime to better equip member states in their fight against criminal organizations operating in the EU, say MEPs in a non-legislative resolution passed on Tuesday (25 October). MEPs call for initiatives such as EU-wide rules to seize assets from criminal organizations to re-use for social purposes and protection of whistle-blowers.

In the resolution, MEPs demand the adoption of a European Action Plan to eradicate organised crime, fraud and corruption as outlined in its resolution of 2013. They stress that this must be a political priority for the EU and that police and judicial cooperation between Member States is therefore crucial.

“Europe needs to understand the complex issue of organized crime and the danger arising from the infiltration of criminal associations into the social, economic, and political fabric of the member states,” said rapporteur Laura Ferrara (IT, EFDD).“The criminal codes of member states need to be fit for the challenge. This is why I call for urgent and incisive regulatory action at European level to provide law enforcement authorities with the necessary tools to properly fight organized crime groups across Europe.”

Tackling corruption

The EU Commission is also asked to draw up “blacklists of any undertakings which have proven links with organized crime or engaged in corrupt practices” and to “bar them from entering into an economic relationship with a public authority and benefitting from EU funds”.

Further, a specialist Europol unit should be created to combat organized criminal groups “which operate in several sectors at the same time” the resolution reads. MEPs also ask for common rules for protecting whistle-blowers before the end of 2017.

Find out more:

Adopted text will soon be available here (25.10.2016)
Video recording of the debate (24.10.2016)
Audiovisual material for media
EP Research Service: Organised crime and corruption - The cost of Non-Europe (March 2016)

EP resolution on organised crime, corruption and money laundering: recommendations on action and initiatives to be taken (23.10.2013)

Cracking down on organised crime, corruption and money laundering (Press release, 23.10.2013)

Brexit

The United Kingdom of #Fraud and #Bribery?

Henry St George

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Will the U.K. still have access to key European intelligence systems and judicial tools, including the European Arrest Warrants (EAW), following Brexit? U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May insists that the issue is still under negotiation, in sharp contrast to EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s unequivocal statement that the UK will cease to be a member of initiatives like Europol as soon as it leaves the European Union, and would have to go through a lengthy negotiation process to rejoin them as a non-Schengen, non-EU country.

The precedent for a non-EU country participating in the EAW scheme is not much more promising; Norway and Iceland’s extradition treaties with the EU, which largely mirror the EAW, took years to negotiate and have yet to come fully into effect. The British government’s decision to make remaining a part of the EAW a “priority”, no matter how unlikely this is from Brussels’ standpoint, suggests that U.K. officials are aware that without the EAW and other judicial cooperation tools, they risk becoming safehaven for criminals.

The EAW, introduced in January 2004, has greatly streamlined and depoliticized the extradition process in Europe, as participating countries are no longer able to exempt their own citizens from extradition and executive decision-making is removed from the surrender procedure. The rule of dual criminality, under which acts only constitute a basis for extradition if they are considered a crime in both the requesting and the requested jurisdiction,  was relaxed. Now, for 32 categories of crimes, ranging from the most serious (terrorism, murder, rape) to the less obvious (fraud, antiquities smuggling, environmental crime) there is no need to prove dual criminality.

If in the olden days, processing and extraditing a suspect an year, under the accelerated procedure it’s  resolved in 48 days on average. Thanks to that, the EAW is highly effective against emerging types of crime, such as a recent scheme in which Eastern European gangs use low-cost airlines to travel abroad and commit crimes before rapidly returning to their country.

While some hard-line Brexiteers welcome the U.K.’s upcoming exclusion from the EAW, cherry-picking cases to claim that “many innocent Britons have been subject to devastating abuse at the hands of incompetent or even corrupt European authorities”, this hyperbole ignores the significant successes for which the EAW scheme is responsible. The Association of Chief Police Officers referred to the EAW as a ‘vital’ tool against organized crime; the Conservative Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, recognised that the EAW was an “effective tool” that was “absolutely essential to delivering effective judgment to the murderers, rapists, and paedophiles that we have managed to seek judgment on”.

There are numerous high-profile examples of the criminals Rudd is referring to having been brought to the UK to face justice via the EAW, from terrorist Husain Osman to paedophile Stephen Carruthers, who had been one of Britain’s ten most wanted criminals when he was arrested in France in January 2017, to priest Laurence Soper, who was brought back from Kosovo to the U.K. to face charges for sexually abusing boys and subjecting them to sadistic beatings. Whitehall has also benefited from the swift extradition of numerous lower-profile criminals, many of whom would not have been brought before justice without the EAW.

While there is a general consensus that the EAW could be improved, particularly by instituting a proportionality test with common guidelines for all EU countries, exiting the scheme entirely throws the baby out with the bathwater and would return the U.K. to a system that, as Theresa May herself noted, would permit 22 EU countries, including France and Germany, to refuse to extradite their nationals to the U.K.  Numerous U.K. officials have raised concerns about a serious security risk if British police are cut off from European resources. A recent report from academics at King’s College London emphasized the high stakes involved and warned against a “serious disruption to security cooperation”, while senior police officers advised that “years of onerous work” will be needed to preserve the current levels of international cooperation.

The difficulties have already begun. As many as 20 extradition requests sought by British police are currently held up in Ireland due to concerns about what extradition framework will exist between the two countries post-Brexit. There are increasing fears that the UK will become “the refuge of preference for every criminal in Europe”.

These fears are easily justified: European criminals on the run from fraud and corruption charges already flee to the UK. Romanian oligarch Alexander Adamescu represents the perfect example of the kind of criminal which will flood the post-Brexit U.K.. Adamescu fled to the U.K. to escape bribery and fraud allegations similar to those which imprisoned his late father. A poisonous combination of an elaborate and noisy media strategy put into place by his British lawyers and hard-line Tories seizing on Adamescu’s case to promote their anti-EU, anti-EAW agenda have kept him in the U.K. despite the outstanding European Arrest Warrant in his name. While evading justice in the UK and masquerading as a playwright, Adamescu is now free to continue his stalling tactics. He is suing the Romanian state, arguing that the charges against him and his father are politically motivated, and is even claiming Jewish heritage - since one of the few ways to override an EAW is in cases of racial or religious discrimination.

Adamescu is not alone in finding the U.K. an attractive place to hide from justice. 28 percent of people arrested in London are foreign nationals, half of which are from the EU. And this is with the European Arrest Warrant in place - without it, Theresa May’s prediction that the UK will become a “honeypot” for criminals evading European justice will undoubtedly prove true.

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Corruption

#Kokorev: The case of 'Kangaroo Courts' on Canary Islands

Colin Stevens

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The image of impartiality of Spanish courts has been shaken due to the scandal surrounding the High Court of Las Palmas (Canary Islands, Spain). In October 2016, the local press published a filtered audio recording of private deliberations between four magistrates of the High Court (Audiencia Provincial), including Judges Carlos Vielba, Salvador Alba and the Chairman of the High Court, Emilio Moya. The judges discussed their fear of Russian children attending the same school as that of magistrates’ own kids. One of the magistrates affirmed that “all Russians are criminals, in particular the young ones and with money”.

Despite the media outcry and the official request made by the Russian Consulate in Las Palmas to identify the author of these remarks, the Spanish Department of Justice has not taken any measures in the six months following the scandal, and remained suspiciously mute on the issue. To the contrary in fact, as at least one of the magistrates has been reportedly promoted since the incident.

However, according to the reports by the Spanish press, the xenophobic incident has finally picked up some traction in April 2017 and is now being investigated by the Central Directorate of Spanish Justice (Consejo General de Poder Judicial). Apparently, this shift has been propelled by a formal request made on behalf of European Parliament to clarify the status of one of the most mysterious cases in the recent history of Spanish justice.

The so-called Kokorev Case, in which the requests for information have identified both political and xenophobic undertones, begins with the decision of an investigative judge from Las Palmas, Ana Isabel de Vega Serrano, to order a pre-trial detention of the whole family of Spanish entrepreneur of Russian-Jewish origins, Vladimir Kokorev. The businessman, his wife and his son remain imprisoned on Canary Islands for almost two years, under an alleged suspicion of being the front-men for Teodoro Obiang, the President of Equatorial Guinea. During all this time, no formal accusation has been presented and only very recently the case itself have become accessible for the defending attorneys.

Curiously enough, in the very same “auto” (judicial decision), that dictated the pre-trial detention, Judge de Vega admitted that “in so far [November 2015], this court has been unable to obtain any evidence linking the funds, [received by Kokorevs] with any acquisitions of real estate for any members of Guinean government”.

Investigating judge Ana Isabel de Vega Serrano

Investigating judge Ana Isabel de Vega Serrano

That is, the very same decision that put three persons with no prior criminal history behind bars for almost two years, also acknowledges that the court has no evidence against them. The reason that this patently absurd reasoning remained legally valid was that the very same Judge de Vega Serrano redacted the admission of lacking evidence against the accused, under the excuse of the secrecy of the case. The Spanish judge kept the case against Kokorevs secret for almost five years, two of which they spent in prison, without any knowledge of what they were accused of or on basis of what evidence, since, according to Judge Serrano “such knowledge could be damaging in the proceedings”. That is, the Spanish judge reasoned that it could be damaging to her case to let the persons that she put in pre-trial detention and their lawyers to know that there was no actual evidence against them.

This Kafkaesque decision to imprison the whole family based on secret evidence and secret reasoning was appealed in several occasions before Audiencia Provincial - the high court of Las Palmas (Spain). It is worth noting that the magistrates in charge of the review had access to the whole text of the decision – unlike Kokorev’s own attorneys – that is, they were fully aware of Serrano’s awkward reasoning of ordering a pre-trial detention while also admitting to lack evidence against the accused. However, every appeal was systematically rejected.

The members of Kokorev family are kept in separate facilities in Canarian prison Juan Grande, and under the most severe penitentiary regime reserved for especially dangerous criminals and terrorists. The patriarch of the family, Vladimir Kokorev, who had suffered a minor stroke and a prostate operation shortly before the imprisonment, is denied medical attention. His requests to allow a Rabbi to visit him were also ignored for 8 months until the prison administration budged under the pressure of Spanish Jewish Association.

“It is difficult not to agree with the defence’s opinion, which states that the record is being kept secret to hide the lack of evidence against the Kokorevs, giving the impression of a political case with private interests being served. Otherwise it is impossible to explain the obvious and flagrant violations of the norms of international law and the laws of the Kingdom of Spain,” states the letter addressed to the Spanish General Prosecution Office by two MEPs.

A week after the request was made public, the judge Serrano lifted the secrecy of case with a statement “although the investigation continues, the secrecy is no longer necessary”.

To the surprise and dismay of Kokorev’s defence attorneys, the case against them is based first and foremost on the statements provided of Vladimir Kokorev’s former Panamanian attorney, Ismael Gerli. Mr. Gerli is indicted on at least two counts of forgery in Panama, forgeries that he has committed with intention of taking over several real estate properties owned by Vladimir Kokorev and his son Igor, days after their arrest. The Panamanian attorney is awaiting for a trial and currently forbidden from leaving the country.

However, this does not mean that Kokorevs’ nightmare is anywhere close to its end. There is still no date for the hearing of the case, nor any formal accusation. A new appeal of Igor Kokorev to Las Palmas High Court has been recently rejected. The reasoning of the magistrate to deny Igor bail (after having spent 18 months in prison) is as puzzling as that of the investigative judge: “the pre-trial detention does not require any evidence, or does not require for such evidence to be authentic.” It certainly seems that the justice on Canary Islands abides by its own set of very particular rules.

According to the 2017 EU Justice Scoreboard Report, fifty-eight percent (58%) of Spaniards perceive the independence of their courts as “fairly bad” or “very bad”, a 2% increase from last year. Spain is the fourth country at the bottom of the list, together with Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia.

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Corruption

#Romania condemned over refusal to comply with international ruling

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The former Attorney General of England and Wales has led a chorus of criticism of Romania over its failure to comply with an international ruling over the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), writes Martin Banks.

The verbal comments by top barrister Lord Goldsmith comes after Romania refused to abide by a binding ruling of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

It concerns the case of Alexander Adamescu, a German citizen living in London who says the EAW was issued against him on “trumped up” charges of bribery and with the intention of thwarting the arbitration that The Nova Group, (TNG) led by Adamescu, has brought against Romania. The Nova Group initiated  arbitration proceedings against Romania demanding compensation for the systematic destruction of its investments in Romania, among which Romanian insurance company Astra Asigurari and Romania Libera, an independent newspaper.

TNG's  criticism has been heard by ICSID,  the world’s leading international investment arbitration body set up by the World Bank.

The Washington-based organisation ordered Romania to withdraw what numerous commentators believe to be a “politically motivated” EAW against Adamescu recognizing his importance  for the integrity of the proceedings.

In refusing to respect the ICSID Tribunal’s authority, Romania is  said to be in breach of international legal obligations that it signed up to in the 1970s through its ratification of the Washington Convention.

Adamescu's case has been highlighted by the UK national press and The Nova Group was represented by Lord Goldsmith’s firm, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, in the arbitration.

Goldsmith was critical of Romania which has expressly refused to abide by the ruling.

He said,  “Romania’s refusal to abide by the Tribunal’s binding ruling places Romania in breach of an international treaty that it has been a signatory to for many decades. Unless Romania now complies without further delay, questions will rightly be asked about Romania’s willingness to adhere to its international commitments.”

The international arbitration case was launched against Romania in August 2015 with TNG seeking damages for Romania’s “wrongful attempts to destroy” Romania Libera and the “wrongful forced bankruptcy” inflicted by the Romanian government on Astra Asigurari.

In May 2016, in what is described as an attempt to “silence” Adamescu, the Romanian government issued an EAW against him.

The move drew international condemnation from academics, politicians and journalists who decried Romania’s alleged failure to respect due process and who were concerned by the apparent political motivations for the move.

The Nova Group’s legal team were successful in demonstrating to the ICSID Tribunal that the extradition of Adamescu to Romania would prevent the arbitration from proceeding fairly. In its decision to order Romania to withdraw the warrant, and in rejecting Romania’s request for reconsideration of the decision,  the tribunal acknowledged what it called Adamescu’s “essential importance to the fair conduct of the arbitration.”

This, it said, was underlined by the death in January of his father and Nova Group founder, Dan Adamescu, while in Romania’s custody.

On 29 March, the ICSID tribunal issued a binding decision ordering Romania to withdraw the warrant against Adamescu, and requiring Romania to “refrain from reissuing or transmitting any other EAW against him.

On 10 April, Romania asked the ICSID to reconsider its decision but this was rejected and the order upheld.

Experts say Romania's pursuit of Adamescu’s extradition breaches its commitment to the convention which it signed in 1974 and which stipulates that no party which has consented to arbitration can unilaterally withdraw that consent.

Further comment came from  Adamescu who has lived in the UK for 4 years with his wife, Adriana, and their three children, who said, “Romania’s violation of international law in the Astra case, its illegal use of ‘lawfare’ to attempt to silence me, and its desire to make the UK complicit in its political persecution of me and my family through the EAW, demonstrates that they are truly the EU’s outlaw state.”

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