Commission fosters confiscation of mafia assets

yachts in marina at Monaco.jpg

The European Commission published today (12 March) a legislative proposal to make more effective the tools for freezing, managing and confiscating assets from organised crime and mafia across the EU.

Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström announced that the proposed directive would simplify existing rules and fill gaps that have benefited criminals until now. I would also open the door for non-conviction-based confiscation.

She admitted that rules differed too much from one EU country to another, and for now, little was confiscated compared to the huge amounts of criminal profits (see background).

Money from criminal activities was invested in gold, yachts, racing horses and fancy cars, Malmström said. That money needed to return to the legal economy, she said.

The Commissioner insisted that such an initiative was even more important in times of crisis, as the money could be invested in welfare sectors, health care, schools or could have been returned to victims.

"We are talking about huge sums," she said. "We need to hit criminals where it hurts, by going after the money, and we have to get their profits back into the legal economy, especially in these times of crisis. Law enforcement and judicial authorities must have better tools to follow the money trail."

What appears as the main a novelty in the legislative proposal is for non-conviction-based confiscation, applying in the following cases:

  • Assets which are not linked to a specific crime, but clearly result from similar criminal activity (extended confiscation);
  • Assets transferred by the criminal to a third party who should have realised that they were derived from criminal activity;
  • When the suspect is deceased, permanently ill or has fled;
  • Allowing law enforcement authorities to freeze assets that risk disappearing.

Malmström said the proposals could have gone further, but the Commission sought a balance which was "reasonable". She admitted that for some member countries the proposed changes would require a deeper harmonisation effort than in others. 

Asked about what countries would do with the proceedings of seized assets, the Commissioner said member states had different practices and that the important thing is that the wealth re-enters the legal economy.

Malmström also made it clear that the proposal covers only the Union's members and not affect non-EU countries like Switzerland.

Asked about Bulgaria and Romania – already monitored by a Cooperation and Verification Mechanism on law enforcement with requirements which include the seizure of assets from criminal activities – Malmström appeared to indicate that the new initiative had no relation to the existing monitoring.

The United Nations estimates the total amount of criminal profits in 2009 at $2.1 trillion, or 3.6% of global GDP.

There are no general estimates of the size of criminal profits in the EU, but there are in some of the member countries. For instance, annual organised crime revenues were an estimated €150 billion in 2011 in Italy; in the United Kingdom, the estimate for 2006 was £15 billion.

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