The COVID-19 pandemic has not only weakened economies and threatened livelihoods, but criminals are taking advantage of these vulnerabilities to commit economic and financial crimes such as fraud and money laundering.
Throughout the pandemic, Europe has seen a rapid increase in online fraud targeting individuals, businesses of all sizes as well as critical infrastructure.
In responding to this threat, Europol has created the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre. We explore the key issues and reasons for the creation of the centre as outlined by Europol in a recent report.
Who is Europol?
Europol is the European Union’s law enforcement agency, supporting EU Member States in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organised forms of crime. Europol also works with many non-EU partner states and international organisations.
The European Financial and Economic Crime Centre
Why was the centre created?
Europol has created the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC) largely as a response to the economic and financial crime threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which it anticipates will likely continue throughout the recovery phase.
A key aim of this initiative is not only to deter, prevent and prosecute criminals, but also to deprive them of illicitly gained funds which allow criminal groups to continue and expand their operations.
Europol admits that while the EU generally achieves good results in dismantling criminal groups and making arrests, it “still shows mediocre results when it comes to the recovery of criminal assets”.
This is attributed to a number of reasons including:
- Limited sharing of financial and beneficial ownership information across borders.
- Not every investigation into organised crime in Europe is complemented by a corresponding financial investigation in the same targets.
While the number of international investigations into economic and financial crimes supported by Europol has been increasing since 2017, it is estimated that more than 98% of criminal assets are still not recovered.
What will the EFECC do?
As outlined in its report, in order to deprive criminal groups of illicit gains the EFECC will:
- Enhance Europol’s operational support to EU Member States and EU bodies in the fields of financial and economic crime.
- Promote the consistent use of financial investigations.
- Collect and analyse information on cases investigated by Member States.
- Create alliances with public and private entities to trace, seize and confiscate criminal assets in the EU and beyond.
- Engage with public and private sector stakeholders.
- Support European cross-border investigations into money laundering, corruption and various types of fraud.
- Partner with the newly established European Public Prosecutor’s Office to support investigations into crimes that affect the financial interests of the EU.
- Act as a common platform to enable cooperation across a broad range of diverse stakeholders.
- Enhance information sharing and provide state-of-the-art operational, analytical and technical support.
Criminal groups are exploiting vulnerabilities resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to increased economic and financial crime threats. Europol has created the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre to respond to these threats, with a particular focus on the recovery of criminal assets.