Europol targets organised crime with dedicated financial unit

Europol has opened a 65-strong European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC) that it says will attempt to disrupt money flows in organised crime networks.

The EFECC will tackle crimes like fraud, money laundering, the production and distribution of counterfeit goods and other intellectual property crime, and currency counterfeiting which become “particularly threatening during times of economic crisis,” according to Europol executive director Catherine De Bolle.

Having a dedicated unit will strengthen Europol’s ability to support EU member state and partner countries’ law enforcement agencies in fighting criminals seeking to profit from economic hardship, she added.

Money laundering and criminal finances are the engines of organised crime, according to Europol, as without them criminals would not be able to make use of the illicit profits they generate with the various serious and organised crime activities carried out in the EU.

According to previous estimates by the organisation, almost 99 per cent of illegal profits are not confiscated and remain at the disposal of criminal networks.

A just-published report delving into the ways economic and financial crime can be fought notes that this activity offers a relatively low risk of discovery and prosecution with potentially very high profits and its complexity makes the activity difficult to detect and investigate.

The shift to digital financial technology (fintech) and increased use of online and mobile banking has made people increasingly vulnerable to scams, for example, and criminals are responding to the opportunity.

“One of the key challenges is the convergence of different types of criminal activities such as fraud, cybercrime and financial crime as one threat,” says the report.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed these vulnerabilities, for example with rising levels of counterfeit and pirated goods such as fake COVID-19 home testing kits and personal protective equipment (PPE) being offered for sale to unsuspecting customers, with individuals, companies and even governments affected.

“Economic stimuli such as those proposed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic will be targeted by criminals seeking to defraud public funding,” says Europol.

“To effectively disrupt and deter criminals involved in serious and organised crime, law enforcement authorities need to follow the money trail as a regular part of their criminal investigations with the objective of seizing criminal profits.”

Among the tasks placed before the EFECC will be to forge alliance with other public and private enterprises to trace, seize and confiscate criminal assets in the EU and beyond, and collect and analyse data generated by member state agencies and other groups.

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