Europol report highlights growing threat of financial and economic crime in the EU

International cooperation is crucial to combat this growing threat in the digital age, the report notes.

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Europol has released its first-ever threat assessment on financial and economic crime, shedding light on a clandestine system that supports criminal enterprises globally. This comprehensive report, titled ‘The other side of the coin: an analysis of financial and economic crime in the EU,’ combines operational insights and strategic intelligence contributed by EU Member States and Europol’s partners. The report delves into various financial and economic crimes affecting the EU, including money laundering, corruption, fraud, intellectual property crime, and commodity and currency counterfeiting.

Key findings from the report include:

  1. Approximately 70% of criminal networks operating in the EU engage in various forms of money laundering to fund their activities and conceal their assets.
  2. More than 60% of these criminal networks employ corruptive methods to achieve their illicit objectives.
  3. 80% of criminal networks misuse legal business structures for criminal activities.
  4. The criminal landscape is fragmented, with key players often located outside the EU.
  5. Criminals continuously advance their techniques and tools, leveraging technological and geopolitical developments.

Technology plays a pivotal role in facilitating these crimes, with encrypted messaging apps, dark web marketplaces, cryptocurrency, cybercrime-as-a-service models, and even AI-driven tools like ChatGPT contributing to their proliferation. Legitimate fintech innovations, such as virtual IBANs and buy-now-pay-later financing, are also exploited by criminals to mask transactions and hijack accounts.

Asset recovery remains a potent tool in combating financial and economic crime, as it deprives criminals of ill-gotten gains and prevents reinvestment in further criminal activities or integration into the mainstream economy. While efforts to recover confiscated assets are increasing, the report reveals that the amount recovered remains alarmingly low, accounting for less than 2% of the estimated yearly proceeds of organised crime.

Europol’s report highlights the urgent need for international cooperation and innovative solutions to combat the rising tide of financial and economic crime in the EU, driven by digitalisation, geopolitical tensions, and the ever-adapting strategies of organised criminals.