Brussels wants to step up action against organized crime, which will also affect Russian and Belarusian oligarchs and politicians linked to the Ukraine war.

“The EU Commission will shortly present a proposal to modernize the existing EU legal framework on confiscation and asset recovery to strengthen the powers of national authorities to trace, freeze, confiscate and manage criminal proceeds,” said the Responsible Vice President of the EU Commission, Margaritis Schinas, WELT AM SONNTAG. The current legal framework is not effective enough to deprive organized crime of the high profits they generate.

“The proceeds from crime in the European Union amount to at least 139 billion euros, of which only one percent is confiscated,” Schinas continued. The new rules that the Brussels authority intends to propose “will expand the scope of crimes recorded, introduce more effective rules to allow funds to be confiscated without a prior conviction and ensure that the monies confiscated are managed effectively”.

In addition, the “asset recovery offices” that already exist in all 27 member states are to be given more powers to “track down and identify illegal assets”.

In this way, these asset recovery offices should be given the opportunity to work more closely with other European agencies and institutions, but also with third countries and international organizations, when tracking down criminal assets. Because organized crime operates across borders, it is particularly important to improve the possibilities for cross-border asset recovery, said Schinas.

The EU Commission’s new legislative plans can also help to enforce sanctions against oligarchs and politicians: “We see a very concrete example of how important freezing and confiscation is in connection with the EU sanctions against Russians and Belarusians, which war against Ukraine,” Schinas said.

Although these are not criminal sanctions per se, “EU sanctions, and in particular targeted financial sanctions such as those related to the war, also rely on asset freezes where asset identification and tracing is crucial.” .

Schinas described organized crime as “one of the greatest threats to the security of the European Union”. It is therefore one of the priorities of his authority to do everything “that crime does not pay”. A year ago, the EU Commission presented an “EU Strategy to Combat Organized Crime 2021-2025”. Common regulations on how to track down and confiscate criminal profits have existed for years.

“Nevertheless, most law enforcement agencies in the Member States do not systematically launch financial investigations into all high-revenue crimes. And even when that is the case, the management of the confiscated assets is often left to a multitude of authorities that do not have the relevant expertise,” said the EU Commission Vice President.

He gave a concrete example: “If assets such as houses are not managed properly, Member States can freeze and confiscate them at a loss, with the cost of maintaining the assets being higher than the final value of the property.”

According to the Federal Criminal Police Office, organized crime in Germany caused economic damage of more than 800 million euros in 2020. The police conducted a total of 594 investigations. It was about stolen assets worth more than one billion euros.