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Europe lacks resources to tackle cross-border crime, says Eurojust

  • Eurojust is headquartered in the Hague (Photo: CE | The Hague - Eurojust)

Fighting cross-border crime in the EU still faces "practical difficulties" due to scarce resources in member states and the ability of criminals to move freely from one country to another, Eurojust's new chief Aled Williams told MEPs on Wednesday (17 March).

Tasked with ensuring co-operation of prosecutors and police when faced with cross-border criminal cases, Eurojust is grappling with 27 different legal systems while skilled criminals are easily able to take advantage of the confusion.

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"The first set of difficulties in judicial co-operation between member states is very practical – lack of resources and the fact that criminals are able to take advantage of the freedom of movement all other law-abiding citizens enjoy," Mr Williams said during a hearing in the European Parliament's justice and home affairs committee.

He gave the example of a case where British criminals set up a fake company in Seville – a so-called boiler-room used to persuade citizens in the UK to buy worthless shares.

"When it came to the investigation of this case, there were difficulties because of the fact that we were dealing with criminals based in one member state and victims in another," the British prosecutor explained.

Eurojust also encounters legal definition difficulties, for instance in the definition of money laundering, which requires different sets of proofs in various member states.

One way to solve these problems would be to transform Eurojust into a European Prosecutor's office. According to the Lisbon Treaty, the new legal framework of the EU, this is possible but requires the consent of all member states.

This is unlikely as several countries would oppose the move, seen as denting national sovereignty in legal matters, especially since it would require a harmonisation of criminal codes.

Eurojust has however set up a "task force" for discussing the matter, Mr Williams said.

Foreign envoys for Eurojust

Another novelty made possible by the Lisbon Treaty is to have liaison officers for Eurojust in countries outside the EU. They would feed the Hague-based body with information and help with practical matters when it comes to extraditions and joint investigations abroad.

That too would have to be decided by EU ministers, jointly with the European Parliament which now has increased powers in the area of justice and home affairs.

Meanwhile, a set of new measures adopted in 2008 and aimed at making Eurojust more operational still need to be implemented by member states. These include sending more staff to the EU body and establishing national co-ordination systems in each country, a representative for the Spanish EU presidency said.

Set up in 2002, Eurojust has seen a gradual increase of cases brought to its attention. In 2009, there were 1,400 cross-border investigations which requested Eurojust's assistance, an increase of 15 percent compared to the previous year.

"Joint investigation teams" can in such cases make sure the proper arrest warrants are issued and the bank accounts frozen when major cross-border arrests take place in order to obtain evidence which is admissible in the courts of the various states.

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