Brussels, 23 August 2010
European Commission calls on 14 EU Member States to make sure cross-border crime doesn't pay
Last month, Italian authorities confiscated €60 million of Mafia assets. In the UK, £92.3 million was seized from an international crime ring with property in Dubai. The seizures only claimed a fraction of the criminals' total wealth, which today can be easily transferred across borders. That is why the EU rules in force since 2006 (Council Framework Decision 2006/783/JHA90) allow Member States to obtain the confiscation of criminal assets abroad. However, a report published by the European Commission today shows that half of EU countries have yet to put these rules in place. This means that the assets – whether property, laundered money or stolen cars – of a criminal organisation prosecuted in France are safe in Slovakia or Bulgaria, for example. The EU rules should allow justice authorities to ask their counterparts in other Member States to enforce confiscation orders, but today's report highlighted that poor implementation and red tape, which often reflect a lack of trust in other country's justice systems, still make it hard to attack criminal assets.
"In a time of economic crisis, it is unfortunate that EU Member States are letting billions of euro worth of convicted criminals' assets slip through the net. This happens even though governments agreed on confiscation measures four years ago," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. "The unwillingness of many Member States to comply with Council Framework Decisions, to which they all have agreed, makes it clear – once again – why the EU’s area of justice needed the Lisbon Treaty. In future, we must have clearer rules, more consistent application and enforcement and – above all – trust between justice systems. In the meantime, I call on Member States to put the anti-crime rules in place so that the justice authorities can work together and effectively attack criminals' ill-gotten gains."
Criminals take advantage of the open borders in the EU by moving stolen assets or illegal goods across borders. Confiscation is a valuable tool to stop this practice.
Under EU rules, one EU country can send a confiscation order to another country where the subject of the order lives or has property or income. The other country directly carries out the confiscation, under its own national rules, without any further formality.
However, today's report shows that by February 2010 only 13 of the 27 EU countries have put the rules in place. Although the deadline for implementing the measures was 24 November 2008, seven countries told the Commission that the legislative process was still underway, while the other seven gave no information (see Annex).
The 13 Member States that have put the rules in place are already using them to fight crime. Justice authorities in the Netherlands, for example, have sent 121 confiscation orders to counterparts across the EU since the rules were in force, for assets worth a total of almost €20 million.
Justice cooperation limited without faith in fairness of justice systems
The current EU rules lists limited circumstances in which Member States may refuse to carry out confiscation orders, such as violation of double jeopardy (being tried twice for the same crime) or very long delays between the facts and final conviction. However, today's report shows that all but three countries (Ireland, Portugal and the Netherlands1) have added further reasons for refusing to carry out other countries’ confiscation orders. This limits the impact of an instrument intended to allow authorities to immediately recognise each others' decisions.
Today's Commission report also warned that even where the rules are in place, confiscation orders are still not recognised automatically due to legal formalities, such as public hearings, which have been added to national rules in four countries (Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Slovenia).
In March, EU Justice Commissioner Reding said that mutual trust is needed so that justice authorities recognise each others' decisions (SPEECH/10/89). The Commission has therefore made a priority of rolling out common minimum standards – starting with interpretation and translation rights for criminal suspects (already entering into force this autumn – IP/10/746) and a letter of rights (proposed on 20 July – IP/10/989).
On 6 October 2006, EU Member States agreed a Council Framework Decision (2006/783/JHA90) to recognise and immediately begin executing confiscation orders delivered by competent authorities of other EU countries.
Before the Lisbon Treaty, EU justice rules were adopted under the former so-called "third pillar" as "Framework Decisions," which were binding on the Member States regarding the results, but left the choice of form and methods to the national authorities. This could result in approximate rules which in practice could vary widely across the EU. For a transitional period until 2014, the Commission cannot take legal action to make sure Member States enforce these rules, as it can in other policy areas. Until then, it will continue to monitor and actively support effective implementation and compliance by Member States.
Justice and Home Affairs Newsroom:
Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President and EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship:
Note that the report adopted today was finalised in February 2010, while the Netherlands introduced the national implementation law in April 2010. As a result, the report states that Ireland and Portugal are the only two countries which have not introduced any additional grounds for refusal.