Almost all criminal activities yield profits, often in the form of cash, that the criminals then seek to launder through various channels.
Money laundering is an offence in its own right — but it is also closely related to other forms of serious and organised crime as well as the financing of terrorism.
In addition to organised criminal groups, professional money launderers perform money laundering services on behalf of others as their core business.
The scale of money laundering is difficult to assess, but it is considered to be significant. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that between 2 and 5% of global GDP is laundered each year. That’s between EUR 715 billion and 1.87 trillion each year.
Most organised crime shares a common denominator — the financial motive. Organised crime groups boost their assets and then inject them into the legal economy through different money laundering schemes. Tracing these assets means tracing the networks.
Europol has a broad mandate in the area of combating money laundering, and provides Member States with intelligence and forensic support to prevent and combat international money laundering activities. The main objective in tracing illegal assets and money laundering is to:
- find the criminals involved;
- disrupt their associates;
- confiscate the proceeds of their crimes.
The Europol Criminal Assets Bureau (ECAB) assists Member States’ financial investigators in tracing the proceeds of crime worldwide, in cases where assets have been concealed beyond their jurisdiction.
The ECAB hosts the secretariat of the Camden Asset Recovery Inter-Agency Network (CARIN), which focuses on all aspects of confiscating the proceeds of crime. Comprising practitioners from 54 jurisdictions and 9 international organisations, CARIN can assist with enquiries regarding the tracing, freezing, seizure, management and confiscation or forfeiture of criminal proceeds or other assets belonging to a suspect.
Europol also hosts, within the FIU.net, the permanent secretariat of the Anti-Money Laundering Operational Informal Network (AMON), which was set up in 2012 as a group for anti-money laundering investigators. With practitioners from 21 jurisdictions and 3 international organisations, AMON enhances the effectiveness of cross-border investigations into money laundering by providing fast responses and pooled expertise.
The Financial Crime Information Centre (FCIC) is a secure web platform for law enforcement practitioners dealing with money laundering, asset recovery and financial intelligence. It allows its 1 200 members (in 2015) to share and retrieve knowledge, best practice and non-personal data on financial intelligence. It also serves as the communications platform for CARIN, AMON and other projects supported by Europol’s Financial Intelligence Group.
The incorporation in 2016 of FIU.net – a decentralised and sophisticated computer network supporting the financial intelligence units (FIUs) in the EU in their fight against money laundering and terrorist financing – is expected to further close the financial intelligence gap in the EU, particularly in enforcing the 4th Anti-Money Laundering Directive.
In a 2015 report, Why Is Cash Still King?, Europol questioned the need for the EUR 500 banknote, given its disproportionate use in various stages of criminal activity and the money laundering process. Heeding that concern, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced it would discontinue to issue the high-value note.
In a 2016 operation, codenamed “Usura”, Europol supported the Spanish Guardia Civil in dismantling a money laundering ring with links to two well-known Russian criminal syndicates. Over a number of years, the ring has laundered an estimated EUR 62 million through property investments.