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Europe's Public Prosecutor targets sanctions evasion networks

The European Public Prosecutors Office (EPPO) is preparing to go after gangs that are evading sanctions in order to supply Russia's war machine.

“This is something that we already have been asked by the Commission — if we can deal with it. And our answer was: ‘Yes, we can do it. We are ready to do it’,” chief prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi said.

“We have specialised prosecutors. We have offices in 22 member states… We are the only available tool in this moment at the European level that can fight with this kind of criminality.”

Any choice to add sanctions-busters to the EPPO's targets, on the other hand, will be a political one made by the leaders of EU member states, not all of whom support the EPPO.

To punish Russia, the EU slapped eleven packages of economic penalties. Financial Services Commissioner Mairead McGuinness has stated that the EU will prioritise sanctions evasion this year.

Separately, 12 EU governments, led by the Netherlands, have called for the creation of a Sanctions Agency modelled after the US OFAC. Meanwhile, some MEPs want the job to be assigned to the new AML Authority (AMLA), which the Commission opposes.

Ms Codruta Kovesi stated at the opening of the EPPO's annual report that the EPPO is already investigating frauds that allegedly cost EU taxpayers 14 billion euros — now she wants to go after the smugglers undermining sanctions against Russia.

The European Public Prosecutor's Office is tasked with investigating any crime that is believed to have cost the European Union money, which frequently entails following multinational crime groups and complex cross-border VAT fraud operations.

The office won't have full authority until June 2021, but when AFP met Kovesi at her Luxembourg office on Wednesday, she was celebrating both her native Romania's spring Martisor holiday and the release of the EPPO's second annual 100-page report.

The EPPO's 114 prosecutors are working on 1,117 active investigations and have frozen suspect cash totaling €359 million ($383 million) - more than seven times the organization's budget.



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