New Europol report shines light on multi-billion euro underground criminal economy


The world is getting smaller, as trade, communication and infrastructure on a global scale brings us closer together. However, there is another, darker, side to the coin: our interconnected world is being abused by criminals who have created an underground economy to sustain their illegal operations.

Europol’s first ever threat assessment on the topic, ‘The other side of the coin: an analysis of financial and economic crime in the EU’, sheds a light on this system which, from the shadows, sustains the finances of criminals worldwide.

The report is based on a combination of operational insights and strategic intelligence contributed to Europol by EU Member States and Europol’s partners. It analyses all financial and economic crimes affecting the EU, such as money laundering, corruption, fraud, intellectual property crime, and commodity and currency counterfeiting.

Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said:

Organised crime has built a parallel global criminal economy around money laundering, illicit financial transfers and corruption. With modern technology, they have diversified their modi operandi to evade detection. The report presents Europol’s expertise in financial and economic crimes, detailing how the current threats are manifesting themselves and how these crimes impact the wider society. It serves as a roadmap to foster cooperation that will derail the world of criminal finances, intercept illicit profits, and – above all else – Make Europe Safer. 

The European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said:

Financial and economic crime, and its scale, is a corrosive force in society. Europol and the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre are part of the solution. This report sets out the increasingly sophisticated methods of organised crime and the European law enforcement successes in fighting back. If EU Member States work together even closer on this fight, we can achieve great results.

Key findings of the report 

Almost 70% of criminal networks operating in the EU make use of one form of money laundering or the other to fund their activities and conceal their assets. 

More than 60% of the criminal networks operating in the EU use corruptive methods to achieve their illicit objectives.

80% of the criminal networks active in the EU misuse legal business structures for criminal activities.

The criminal landscape in this area is fragmented, with key players often located outside of the EU. 

The techniques and tools used by the criminals advance quickly, as they take advantage of technological and geopolitical developments. 

Asset recovery as a powerful deterrent 

Asset recovery remains one of the most powerful tools to fight back. It deprives criminals of their ill-gotten assets and prevents them from reinvesting them in further crime or integrating them into the mainstream economy.

Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre 

The European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC), founded in June 2020, is Europol’s answer to the growing threats to the economy and integrity of our financial systems.

EFECC’s dedicated specialists and analysts support law enforcement and relevant public authorities in their international financial crime investigations and aims at improving the recovery of criminal assets. In 2022, EFECC supported 402 investigations, with the demand for its skills and services increasing every year.

Increasing efforts are being made by EU legislators, Member States and law enforcement to corrode the economic power of serious and organised crime through the recovery of confiscated assets. Yet the amount of captured proceeds still remains too low – below 2% of the yearly estimated proceeds of organised crime, according to a data collection carried out on seized assets for the purpose of the report.