Europol recently released its first European Financial and Economic Crime Threat Assessment. It presents the findings of Europol’s expert analysts, including details of serious and organized crimes that currently threaten the internal security of the EU and the impact of these crimes on wider society. Europol reports a significant increase in cyber-enabled financial and economic crimes because of the digital acceleration of society since the COVID-19 pandemic, likely due to the greater pool of targets of victimize. The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, which has led to price increases, rising inflation and disruptions in global supply chains and the provision of certain services, has also presented criminals with additional opportunities to exploit vulnerable individuals and businesses in distress. In addition, the unprecedented sanctions imposed by the EU against Russian organizations and individuals offer opportunities for organized crime groups, including specialized money laundering networks, to help designated persons to circumvent sanctions.
According to the report, almost 70 percent of criminal networks that operate in the EU utilize basic money laundering techniques, while more than 60 percent use corruptive methods to achieve their illicit objectives. Europol also found that criminals are blurring the lines between the illicit and licit worlds by combining criminal finances and investments with lawful ones. Europol further reports that more than 80 percent of criminal networks in the EU misuse legal business structures and use the façade of a legitimate business to avoid detection by law enforcement.
The assessment provides an overview of current money laundering and corruption schemes and common methods used by criminal networks to finance illegal activities and introduce illicit proceeds into the greater economy. It also explores the “World of Frauds” and provides a snapshot of numerous fraudulent schemes, including cyber-enabled schemes, in which criminal actors are currently engaging. Europol also examines intellectual property crime and counterfeiting, an area of crime that has remained stable over the years but continues to be difficult to investigate because most counterfeited commodities traded within the EU originate from abroad and rely on intermediaries, making it harder to detect key players. According to Europol, this obstacle and others discussed in the assessment can be effectively addressed by improving global cooperation with law enforcement partners, which will require a substantial investment in resources and training.