Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC) aims to counter activities that are estimated to cost the EU economy some €110 billion a year.
It also aims to combat criminals who, it is feared, will try to benefit from the economic fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking on Friday in The Hague at a news conference to launch the centre, Europol Executive Director Catherine de Bolle said, “Europol has investigated economic crime in the past but not with such a coherent approach.”
She added, “That is why we need to step up with this new centre. Given the pandemic it is very timely and will give fresh impetus in the fight against financial crime.”
The EFECC, she said, aims to “disrupt the activities” of organised criminals, adding, “to do this you need to follow the money and seize criminal assets.”
“Europol has investigated economic crime in the past but not with such a coherent approach. That is why we need to step up with this new centre” Catherine de Bolle, Europol executive director
“It is not enough to do house searches of confiscations. We must take away the oxygen that criminals breathe and you do that by following the money. This means having timely and accurate information and engaging and having closer cooperation with all those involved including police, customs and asset recovery officers.”
She added, “This often takes us outside national and EU jurisdictions even though there’s a need for a systematic and multilateral approach. The new centre will fill this need.”
The estimated annual cost of organised crime in Europe, €110bn, is money that “could be used for schools and to support Europe’s economies after the health crisis.”
Some €1.2bn of criminal assets are confiscated annually in Europe but de Bolle said, “we need to do more and better than this because this is a small number.”
According to previous reports by Europol, some 98.9 percent of estimated criminal profits are not confiscated and remain at the disposal of criminals.
The new crime centre, she noted, comes after the launch of a cybercrime centre in 2013 and an anti-migrant smuggling centre three years later.
“All are information hubs for sharing intelligence on criminal gangs,” she said.
“The time is now right to create a centre for tackling economic crime which is highly complex and affects millions of citizens and companies in Europe. The extent to which it undermines the economy and impacts on society can’t be underestimated.”
“The centre will play an important role in making it harder to launder money and increase our ability to map the activities of serious criminals who have shown themselves good at using new opportunities such as those presented by the Coronavirus outbreak” Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs
The centre’s 60 international staff, she said, have “650 years of expertise in fighting economic crime.
“Criminals don’t have any regard for national borders and the health crisis has again provided ample evidence that criminals are quick to adapt their criminal schemes to exploit the public’s fears. The fallout from this crisis will test the resilience of our economic infrastructure for years to come and we must be ready to counter the expected increase in the number of economic crimes.”
“Criminals will seek to exploit the problems that will emerge as a result of the upcoming economic downturn.”
Also speaking at the launch, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, said the centre was “timely” because the health crisis was a “chance for organised crime groups to take advantage of a weaker economy.”
“Going after criminals’ money needs specific expertise, not least in the digital era, and the centre will intensify such investigative work and promote better cooperation between the public and private sectors.”
She added, “When the legal economy weakens it is a chance for organised criminals to be stronger, for example, in money laundering. But the centre will play an important role in making it harder to launder money and increase our ability to map the activities of serious criminals who have shown themselves good at using new opportunities such as those presented by the Coronavirus outbreak.”