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Making sure crime doesn’t pay - 15/03/2012

EU measures would strengthen existing laws on seizing assets gained from serious or organised crime.

Criminal groups make billions of euros in illegal profits every year. Most of their proceeds are then invested in legal assets or activities, making it harder for police and other law enforcement agencies to trace and recover them.

Only a small percentage is confiscated from criminal groups. For example, in the UK, organised crime made an estimated £15 billion (€18 billion) in 2006, of which only £125 million (€150 million) was recovered.

The EU has common rules on confiscating assets derived from illegal activities. But these rules have been shown to be inadequate . Countries do not apply them consistently, and confiscation is hindered by substantial differences between national laws.

The Commission is proposing simpler and more effective rules to close the loopholes that criminals exploit. They will also ensure that courts are able to enforce confiscation orders across the EU and fully recover illegal assets.

Confiscation is an effective way of fighting crime and acts as a deterrent. It also prevents illegal wealth being used to finance other criminal activities and protects the legitimate economy from being infiltrated by criminals. The proposals include common measures :

  • making it easier to confiscate assets that are clearly linked to a convicted person's criminal activities
  • simplifying procedures for recovering assets passed on to other people who should have been aware they were criminally obtained
  • allowing assets to be confiscated when a criminal conviction is not possible because the suspect is dead, permanently ill or on the run
  • ensuring that prosecutors and other authorities can temporarily freeze assets before they "disappear"
  • requiring EU countries to manage frozen or confiscated assets so as to preserve their value.

The measures are part of a series of proposals the Commission has been making to fight crime and protect the legal economy. The proposals include an anti-corruption package of measures, for example.

In a recent EU survey , respondents ranked tackling crime as a top priority when asked what policy-makers could do to strengthen the EU.

More on confiscation and asset recovery

More on EU criminal-law policy

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