BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union will seek to increase police cooperation, target human trafficking and establish new rules to counter money laundering, according to plans detailed by the European Commission on Wednesday.
The EU executive set out a five-year roadmap of legislative proposals and initiatives designed to combat organised criminal gangs, who have increasingly gone digital and even exploited the coronavirus pandemic with sales of counterfeit medical products.
For example, criminal groups have already sought to sell over 1 billion fake or non-existent vaccine doses, the Commission said, adding it wanted more focus on dismantling gangs and arresting their leaders than on lower-level offenders.
The Commission said 70% of criminal gangs operate in four or more EU countries and their revenues from trafficking arms, drugs or people, smuggling migrants, cybercrime and other major offences amounted to 139 billion euros ($166 billion) in 2019, equivalent to 1% of EU gross domestic product.
The executive, whose proposals need approval from EU countries and the European Parliament, said it would establish a new police cooperation code and negotiate a Europol-Interpol cooperation agreement.
It would set new anti-money laundering rules and update those for confiscating criminal profits. Today, only 1% of criminal assets are confiscated and a minor share of money laundering detected.
With 80% of crimes now having a digital component, the Commission said it would review guidance on data retention and propose ways for law enforcement authorities to gain access to encrypted information.
In the area of human trafficking, it will seek to set minimum EU rules on criminalising the knowing use of services exploiting trafficked people. It will also discuss ways for internet companies to remove platforms used to recruit or exploit vulnerable people.
Between 2017 and 2018, there were more than 14,000 registered trafficking victims, the majority women and girls, in the European Union.
($1 = 0.8363 euros)
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Toby Chopra)