Europe at ‘breaking point’ as 80% of crime groups infiltrate legitimate businesses

Europol warns the threat from criminal groups has ‘never been so high'

The head of Europol, Catherine De Bolle, says the threat from organised crime groups in Europe has "never been" so high
The head of Europol, Catherine De Bolle, says the threat from organised crime groups in Europe has "never been" so high

The head of Europe’s crime agency Europol says the continent is "at breaking point" due to a rise in serious organised crime.

More than 80 per cent of serious organised crime groups in Europe have infiltrated legitimate businesses, a report by Europol reveals.

The Serious Organised Crime Threat Assessment report is published every four years by the agency. Its executive director, Catherine De Bolle, said the threat had never been so high.

“We believe we are at breaking point with serious and organised crime in the EU,” she said on Monday.

“From the use of violence in organised crime, the exploitation of women and children, and in daily business, we see an increase of victims related to cyber crime.

“Criminals want to invest in the legal economy and strengthen their own business. We are very concerned because we see that the serious and organised crime groups will buy restaurants that are almost broke. They have money and time.

"Serious organised crime groups are becoming stronger. That is why we have to do more and we have to recognise this as a European priority. Joint action is needed.

“Criminals should not underestimate the strength of the law enforcement community. Together we will achieve our goal for a safer Europe.”

She said that cyber crime had increased in sophistication and migrant smuggling was thriving.

About 40 per cent of the criminal networks active in the EU are involved in illegal drugs and 60 per cent of networks use violence.

More than 80 per cent of criminal networks active in Europe use legal business structures for their criminal activities.

“Organised crime undermines our economies,” she said.

“The scale and complexity of money laundering has been previously underestimated. Professional money launderers have established a parallel underground financial system.”

Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, is seeking a crackdown on money launderers.

“This is much more than a report, it is a guide for action because we need to do more,” she said.

“Organised crime is one of the biggest threats facing our society. It is a growing threat, involving violence, contract killings, bombings, torture and intimidation.

“Criminal networks increasingly use violence in Europe to reach their goals and that goal is money. In one year, criminals made 140 billion euros ($166.53bn), money which was used for middlemen and hitmen, which is money we need for vaccines and recovery.

“Today only 1 per cent of criminal assets are recovered, we must follow the money to catch the criminals.”

The report provides an overview of the current state of knowledge on criminal networks and their operations based on data provided to Europol. It sets out current and anticipated developments and identifies the criminal groups and people involved in criminal activities across the EU.

Ms Johansson is due to address the EU Commission on Wednesday on measures to be taken in response to the report's findings.

Updated: April 12, 2021 03:36 PM

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