Judicial authorities in EU Member States are increasingly turning to Eurojust, the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, for assistance in investigations of serious cross-border crimes and terrorism, to bring suspects to trial in national courts. In spite of drastic restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Agency ensured full operational continuity, with 13 % more cases registered last year, to more than 8 800 in total. About one-half of all cases were newly opened, reflecting the growing level of complexity in cross-border criminal investigations. In 2020, judicial cooperation via Eurojust led to the arrest of 2 209 suspects, the freezing of EUR 1.9 billion in criminal assets and the seizure of drugs worth EUR 3 billion.
These are the main conclusions from the Eurojust Annual Report, which has been presented today by its President, Mr Ladislav Hamran, in the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament. On this occasion, he stated: ‘In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had us face the most significant and unpredictable challenges in decades. I am incredibly proud of the flexibility, resilience and determination that Eurojust has shown in the face of this crisis. Our operational support was never interrupted and our impressive results confirm that even under the most difficult circumstances, we are still able to make a real, tangible contribution towards a safer Europe.’
European Commissioner for Justice Mr Didier Reynders said: ‘I congratulate Eurojust for the determination it has shown in its mission and for stepping up its action in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. I am aware that the latest months have put a strain on the functioning of the justice systems in the European Union. Justice will grow stronger after this crisis. Member States are increasing the spending in the digitalisation of the justice systems and are joining forces to prevent cross-border crimes. Eurojust also plays a key role in this transition.’
In total, 164 cases were directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, either regarding difficulties with the execution of European Arrest Warrants and European Investigation Orders due to border closures, or concerning fraud with, for instance, the sale of face masks and protective gels.
Eurojust provided rapid judicial expertise and assistance in these cases, ensuring the freezing of bank accounts and transmission of evidence. In one case, Eurojust supported the Czech authorities with requests for judicial cooperation with France and Switzerland after part of the computer system of a hospital in the city of Brno was hacked at the height of the coronavirus crisis.
By rapidly adapting to a new reality with virtual meetings via secure online communication tools, the Agency has continued to act as a hub for information exchange and provided tailored support, funding and expertise for all relevant partners in the criminal justice chain.
The COVID-19 pandemic clearly emphasised the need for the further digitalisation of justice across the EU, with the European Commission in a Communication last autumn tasking Eurojust to roll out the project Digital Justice. The Agency last year became a full partner of the SIRIUS project with Europol, to better support judicial authorities dealing with internet-based investigations.
Mr Ladislav Hamran, National Member for Slovakia, was re-elected for a four-year mandate as President of the Agency. Mr Boštjan Škrlec, National Member for Slovenia, was elected Vice-President of Eurojust in 2020, functioning side by side with Mr Klaus Meyer-Cabri, National Member for Germany, who was re-elected as Vice-President in 2019.
Major cases in 2020:
- EncroChat: supporting the large-scale unravelling and disrupting of encrypted communications of organised crime groups (OCGs), preventing life-threatening situations and murders
- Continuing to the crackdown on massive abuses of intellectual property rights and video piracy in various coordinated actions, such as Operation Sundance, in cooperation with 18 countries worldwide, including the United States
- Action against a major drug trafficking network from Albania, with 20 arrests and the seizing of four tonnes of cocaine
- Continued efforts to take on trafficking in human beings, for instance by coordinated action in May, providing safety for victims and the arrests of ten suspects from an OCG in Austria, Romania and the United Kingdom
- Support to dismantling an investment fraud scheme with more than 1 000 victims of a fake online trading platform, including action against money laundering by a network of nine suspects
Building on expertise, increasing cooperation and network building:
- Eurojust has further developed as the EU centre for judicial and legal expertise in criminal justice cooperation, providing support to 262 joint investigation teams
- In 2020, Eurojust chaired the Justice and Home Affairs Agencies Network of the EU, and closely cooperated with the European Commission as its key governance partner and the Justice and Home Affairs Council and its Presidencies to provide timely input on the judicial dimension of upcoming discussions
- The Agency has continued to grow on a global scale, acting as a gateway to 55 jurisdictions worldwide with the appointment of four new Contact Points and two new Liaison Prosecutors, from Serbia and Georgia
- As of October 2020, Eurojust hosts the EuroMed Justice Programme for judicial cooperation with the EU’s Southern Partner Countries