Financial investigations are a crucial tool to detect money laundering, terrorist financing and other serious crimes. They can provide new leads to investigators to uncover criminal activities and map out entire criminal networks, including their transnational ramifications, and valuable evidence to prosecute suspected criminals and to identify and confiscate criminal assets.
Financial investigations are enquiries into the financial affairs related to a criminal activity, with a view to identify, analyse and interpret the financial information relevant for criminal proceedings. Given the increasing risk of penetration of the licit economy by serious and organised crime, financial investigations are an essential tool of a modern and effective response to criminal threats including terrorism financing.
The 2021 EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime highlighted the need to promote a culture of early financial investigations in all EU countries and to build up investigators’ capacity to tackle the financial dimension of organised crime, in order to eliminate profits generated by organised crime and prevent infiltration into the legal economy and society
EU countries have recognised the importance of the “follow the money approach” to tackle financial aspects of organised crime and to identify new leads when investigating organised crime in the 2020 Council conclusions on enhancing financial investigations to fight serious and organised crime. The Council Conclusions, which build on the 2016 Council Conclusion and Action Plan on financial investigations, called on EU countries to ensure that financial investigations are part of all kinds of criminal investigations regarding organised crime.
Financial investigations are also crucial to fight terrorism and its financing. Following the money trail enables investigators to identify previously unknown associates in counter-terrorism cases. In the 2020 Counter-Terrorism Agenda, the Commission proposed to establish a network of counter-terrorism financial investigators to support the exchange of investigation techniques and experiences on financial investigations and contribute to improve investigators’ analysis and understanding of trends and emerging risks.
Financial investigations are indeed a crucial component of EMPACT, the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats, both through a specific priority dedicated to the fight against criminal finances and money laundering and the facilitation of asset recovery, and by making financial investigations a common goal for all other priorities (drugs, trafficking in human beings, etc.).
Moreover, Europol has stepped up its efforts to combat highly sophisticated cases of money laundering, scams and frauds that target individuals, companies and the public sector with the establishment in 2020 of the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC). EFECC provides operational support to Member States in ongoing cases in the areas of tax crime, fraud, corruption, money laundering, asset recovery, euro counterfeiting and intellectual property crime.
In addition, the Commission supports the Anti-Money Laundering Operational Network (AMON), an informal international network of law enforcement anti-money laundering units launched in 2012.
CEPOL, the European Agency for Law Enforcement Training, provides regular training to law enforcement officers in order to enhance the understanding of financial investigators of money laundering schemes and to enhance their competencies on transnational financial investigation techniques.
The benefits of financial investigations in assisting the criminal investigation against all serious and organised criminals are obvious, since they contribute to:
In many cases, financial investigations are necessary to develop evidence against sophisticated, high-level criminals with a view to dismantling transnational and organised crime networks.
Financial investigations can also contribute to a jurisdiction’s National Risk Assessment as it provides knowledge on crime patterns.
However, financial investigations are not being used to their full potential, partly due to the insufficient capacity in law enforcement to carry out these complex and burdensome enquiries. The 2021 EU Strategy to tackle Organised Crime urged EU countries to systematically conduct financial investigations in organised crime investigations.