Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, has set up a unit of investigators to tackle an expected surge in financial crime in the economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Catherine De Bolle, Europol’s executive director, said in a statement on Friday that the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC) would help authorities in the 27 EU member states to conduct financial crime investigations and share intelligence.
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The unit will employ 65 analysts to focus on countering money laundering, fraud and corruption, she said.
The agency estimates that criminal groups earn about 110 billion euros ($124.6bn) a year. De Bolle estimated that only 1.2 percent of that is ever captured.
“We have to follow the money to seize the criminals,” she said.
De Bolle said the establishment of the unit was especially important at the time of the coronavirus pandemic as financial crimes could pick up during the subsequent economic slump.
“The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has weakened our economy and created new vulnerabilities from which crime can emerge,” she said.
Europol said sectors such as construction, hospitality, travel and tourism are at higher risk of being infiltrated or taken over by criminals during the economic crisis as companies try to survive the downturn.
It also warned that subsidies offered during the pandemic “will be targeted by criminals seeking to defraud public funding”. Frauds involving medical equipment are also on the rise.