Criminals increasingly cross borders and so must we’, said Ladislav Hamran, President of Eurojust, the European Union’s judicial cooperation agency that supports the fight against organised crime and terrorism.
This contribution is delivered by our Diplomatic Council Partner Diplomat Magazine
The daily lives of citizens across our continent are directly impacted by the threats of violent terrorism and cybercriminals. The need for unity and for practical cooperation in the face of these cross-border challenges has therefore never been so urgent.
2017 was the year that we celebrated 60 years of European integration, but in the field of criminal justice, we actually look at a much shorter period of time. Twenty or even fifteen years ago, prosecutors interacted mainly via cumbersome diplomatic channels, each working from within their own borders. Ensuring the extradition of a suspect was a process that could take up to several years.
The nature of crime was also different at that time, much more confined within national borders than today. Now that criminals are increasingly crossing borders, so must judicial and law enforcement authorities. Luckily, the European Union has taken major steps in this direction in the past decades.
Nowadays, we have several new legal instruments that allow for practical, direct cooperation between judicial authorities. Thanks to the European Arrest Warrant, a suspect can be arrested and extradited within days after the corresponding request is received from another European Union Member State. And the European Investigation Order, introducedin 2017, has the potential to seriously speed up procedures whenprosecutors requesttheir colleagues abroad to conduct house searches and interview witnesses.
A little over a year ago, I had the privilege to take up duties as the President of Eurojust,a body of the European Union created in 2002 with the task of giving operational support to Member States working together on cross-border criminal cases. Last year, nearly 4500 prosecutors, judges and police officers from all over the European Union and beyond visited Eurojust’s premises in The Hagueto join forces in large-scale investigations and prosecutions.
Allow me to give you an example of what our work looks like in practice. In a case called‘Operation Santa Lucia’, the Italian, Spanish and German authorities took down a mafia network that was engaged in drug smuggling, money laundering and violent crimein several countries.
With the support of Eurojust, Italian and Spanish prosecutors first formed a joint investigation team in 2016, enabling them to share information on the mafia network and to decide on the next steps. Over time, links were discovered to criminal activities in Germany, and then the Italian, Spanish and German prosecutors started to meet more regularly. This cooperation resulted in a joint action day, which took place in July 2017.At 04:30,Italian, Spanish and German prosecutors gathered in the coordination centre at Eurojust, a unique room with custom-made facilities for the real-time exchange of information.
National police teams were on stand-by at the various locations in the field, and following instructions from the prosecutors in The Hague, they simultaneously executed planned arrests, searches and seizures of money, cars and jewellery. As a result, 33 people in three countries were arrested that day. Over EUR 5 million and more than 1000 kilograms of drugs were seized and taken off the streets.
Operation Santa Lucia clearly illustrates what we often see: what starts as a seemingly small criminal case turns out to have a much bigger dimension and ends up spanning several years. Because criminal networks are not confined to European borders, cooperation with countries outside of the European Union is an essential component of Eurojust’s work.
Our network of judicial contact points in third States now includes 44 countries and will continue to grow. We have also signed detailed cooperation agreements with 10 countries and are proud to host Liaison Prosecutors from Montenegro, Norway, Switzerland, the USA and Ukraine at our premises.
The frequency and complexity of international crime –terrorism, cybercrime, migrant smuggling and other forms of organised crime – are unfortunately expected to increase. Last year alone, Eurojust dealt with 2550 cases, and our modest estimate is that, in the coming years, we will see an annual growth in casework of approximately9 per cent.
Despite the challenges that we will undoubtedly face in the future, Eurojust will continue to be the European Union’sleading partner in bringing criminals to justice and a key player in ensuring a more secure world.