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21 June, 2024
 
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Laura Kovesi: ''There are no 'clean' countries in the EU

Europe loses €50 billion annually to white-collar crime

Yiannis Ioannou

Yiannis Ioannou

The head of the EPPO (European Public Prosecutor's Office) and the first EU Prosecutor General, Laura Kövesi, spoke with "K" during her visit to Cyprus for an event organized by the Department of Legal Science at the University of Cyprus. She discussed the EPPO's role in combating international organized financial crime and ensuring justice amidst challenging times for the European Union.

Q: On the occasion of your speech at the University of Cyprus, how do you see the fight against financial crime improving in Cyprus and the EU?

A: Besides my speech, I met with the Attorney General's Office and the leadership of the Police. Cooperation with Cyprus is excellent, and significant progress has been made on corruption and financial crime. However, there is always room for improvement, especially on tax issues, in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance and the Audit Office. The EPPO's message after three years is clear: no country is clean. Financial fraud and tax issues are rampant, often involving organized crime groups operating systemically within the EU. Our goal is to assist and cooperate effectively, not to compete.

Q: How does organized crime operate within the EU?

A: White-collar crime has been underestimated for years but is central to modern crime. Interpol reports that the EU loses €50 billion annually due to tax-related crime. These criminal networks are well-organized and aware of each Member State's weaknesses, targeting both the EU and national budgets.

Q: Do EU funds sometimes end up in the hands of organized criminal networks?

A: Unfortunately, yes. Our annual report highlights alarming figures. Many EU funds are misused, but the EPPO has created a zone of 22 member states with 40 delegations, using all available tools to investigate and tackle these issues. Cooperation with national authorities is crucial, and every EU citizen can report information to the EPPO. Strengthening cooperation at every stage, especially in Cyprus, is essential.

Q: There is ongoing debate about the efficiency of the justice system. What are your thoughts on institutional reform and the time it takes for courts to make decisions?

A: Specialization is crucial—prosecutors with a specialized mission and specialized courts. The issue of time is complex, with 22 different national legal systems and standard procedures that take time. However, the EPPO has improved the speed and efficiency of handling cross-border cases. For instance, in an Italian case involving actors in Romania, we traced and recovered the money within three hours.

Q: What is at stake strategically?

A: The primary goal is to repair the damage caused by organized financial crime. Failing to identify and recover black money means failing our mission. Regaining the trust of EU citizens is vital.

Q: Considering Cyprus is not part of the Schengen Area, how does this affect your operations?

A: While this is a political issue, our cooperation with Cyprus, like Romania, is unaffected by Schengen restrictions. The EPPO has a broad perspective, enabling us to link cases and recover significant illegal proceeds across multiple countries.

Q: How should the average EU citizen perceive financial crime?

A: Citizens should not underestimate organized financial crime. While direct theft is immediately felt, corruption and fraud, though less visible, have severe consequences. For example, the Tempi case involved a tragic accident that could have been avoided if a project had been delivered on time. Corruption kills.

Q: How do you view the external malign influence on EU democracy and values?

A: Organized misinformation and financial fraud from third countries are major challenges. These networks are interconnected and often involve politicians. To effectively address these challenges, we must regain citizens' trust.

[This article was translated from its Greek original and edited for clarity]

TAGS
Cyprus  |  Europe  |  money laundering  |  crime

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