Extensive confiscation, third party confiscation, limited confiscation not based on sentences, precautionary freezing, asset management: these are some of the provisions the EU Commission suggests to the member states for a wider, more effective action against organised crime. The intention is to hit criminal gangs and mafias financially, by fighting across-border penetration of crime into European economy.
Chasing after “dirty” money. “We must hit crime where its greatest interests lie, chasing after money, and we must bring its profits back into the circuit of legal economy, especially in the light of the current crisis”, Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Internal Affairs, explained on 12th March. “Police and judicial authorities must be equipped with better systems to track down money and more means to recover a larger share of crime-related profits”. The proposal, which has been submitted to the EU Council and EU Parliament, is supported by economic figures which prove that crime reinvests in production and commercial industries what it “earns” by dealing in drugs, arms, prostitution, off-the-book work. “Every year, in Europe, hundreds of billions of euros end up straight into the pockets of criminal gangs and mafias”, states the Commission’s report that goes with the proposal of the new regulations. “Despite the efforts made by police and judicial authorities all over Europe, lots of such illegal profits remain in the criminals’ hands, so these groups become even stronger and steal from the taxpayer tax revenues that could be invested in schools or health care services”.
Assets to be reinvested. “Increasingly often, organised crime gangs invest their profits outside their native country, not infrequently in several member states, or transfer them to third parties (often relatives or figureheads) so that they will not be confiscated”, the Commission explains. Houses, cars, restaurants, small businesses and shareholdings “are but a few examples of how illegal profits can be reinvested in legal businesses or assets”. Making it easier to confiscate such assets will prevent – this is the intent of the proposed regulations – and deter crime. “The recovery of a higher number of assets to the benefit of the State will have a remarkable impact on the victims of crime, on the taxpayers and on the whole of society”. In addition, once confiscated, crime-related profits “may also be reused for social purposes or as funds to be reinvested into initiatives for fighting or reducing crime”.
Several measures. “Currently, the money recovered from organised crime is very little compared with the huge profits made by such illegal activities as drug dealing, forging, trafficking of human beings or arms smuggling”, the Commissioner explained. Actually, the UN estimates that the total amount of crime-related profits in 2009 (latest available figures) was approximately two thousand billion US dollars, i.e. 3.6% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product for the year. “While most of such dirty money is laundered and reinvested in legal economy, currently less than 1% of crime-related profits are frozen and confiscated”. To give an idea of the proportions of such phenomenon across the EU, the Commission mentions that drug dealing alone “generates an estimated 100 billion euros a year”. So, the Commission suggests that measures should be taken to confiscate assets that are not directly associated with a given crime “but that clearly come from similar criminal activities of the condemned person (extended confiscation)”; confiscation should also apply to those assets that a suspect has transferred to a third person “who should have realised they came from an illegal source” (third party confiscation). Confiscation will also apply to property put together by criminals who are on the run (limited confiscation not based on sentence). “Temporary freezing” is a measure a judge can take to prevent some assets disappearing, being sold, stolen or hidden. Due to multiple requests, the Commission also set forth that every confiscation should be “set off” by “measures for the protection of fundamental rights, especially by protecting the right to the presumption of innocence”.
Use of public funds. The European Parliament too is working hard to fight international crime. At the plenary meeting of 12-15 March, the European Parliament took position on the establishment of a task force “in charge of investigating the illegal use of public funds by organised crime, including mafias, their penetration into the public sector, legal economy and the financial system”. A request to establish such task force had already been approved by the wide majority last October.