Speech by Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus at the Egmont Group Plenary Meeting

Speech by Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus at the Egmont Group Plenary Meeting in The Hague on 4 July 2019.

Your Majesty,

I was very much inspired by your speech on financial inclusion. Society is harmed when people who are in dire financial need become directly or indirectly involved in organised crime.

We must offer these people better life circumstances. But we must also stop criminals from forcing ordinary people to engage in criminal activity. We must protect our democracy by fighting organised crime, money laundering and financing of terrorism. And guard against becoming a ‘narcostate’ where the Minister of Justice turns a blind eye to organised crime.

Ladies and gentlemen,

‘Most people just have a fundamentally flawed view of money.’

These aren’t my words. They were spoken by Marty Byrde, the cunning money launderer in the Netflix series Ozark, which I can recommend. Apparently that statement doesn’t apply to Marty Byrde himself. He knows exactly what to do with money. Especially dirty money. He and his family build a church, run a funeral home and buy a strip club to launder millions in illegal drug money. Faith, death and love. How appropriate. His fictional money-laundering business might seem far-fetched, but real-life criminal activity can – unfortunately – be just as creative.

As staff of Financial Intelligence Units, you know this better than anyone. I understand that no fewer than 158 different FIUs are represented here today. Each one is governed by national legislation. And probably by national cultural norms too. In any case, each one operates on the basis of its own experiences and insights. That means there is a great deal of knowledge in this room.

I hope that this twenty-sixth Egmont Group Plenary has two specific outcomes.

First, that you will share your knowledge with each other even more than you do already. That you can learn from each other’s successes and failures. Because these are valuable lessons too.

And second, I hope that meetings like this one can help us tackle money laundering and financing of terrorism more effectively, all over the world.

Yes, these are ambitious goals. But criminals are ambitious too. They don’t let national borders stop them. So we shouldn’t either. Let’s look for ways to harmonise our policies. After all, about 80 per cent of the 400,000 reports that FIU-Netherlands receives have an international component… 80 per cent! If we harmonise our policies, we could tackle cross-border crime more effectively.

In addition to sound policy, close cooperation is essential. Cooperation between public partners, between public and private partners and between countries.

Let me give you an example from the Netherlands, where these kinds of partnerships work well. I’m talking about Project Piggyback.

This project focuses on Dutch fruit companies. Fruit is currently the most common cover cargo for cocaine smuggling. Thousands of kilos of drugs are hidden in large shipments of bananas. The Netherlands has a favourable geographical position as a transit country. Fruit containers come in via the ports of Rotterdam, Moerdijk, Vlissingen and Antwerp, which means there are plenty of options for smuggling.

Many public and private services and organisations are working together closely to tackle this problem. At regional, national and international level. I’d like to name all the parties involved to give you an idea of what it takes to put together an effective comprehensive approach. Please bear with me – it’s a long list.

The public parties are FIU-Netherlands, the Tax and Customs Administration, the police, the Chamber of Commerce, the Public Prosecution Service, various municipalities, the Regional Information and Expertise Centre (RIEC), the Brabant-Zeeland Task Force and the federal police and customs authorities in Belgium.

A number of organisations in the private sector are also involved: the four largest Dutch banks and the trade association. All of these parties have the same goal: to use their own expertise to investigate irregularities in the fruit sector.

Banks identify suspicious money flows to South America. The Chamber of Commerce raises the alarm if a fruit company registers at a campsite address. And the Customs Administration reports unauthorised unloading of containers.

FIU-Netherlands compares financial, police and tax information to uncover links between people, companies and networks. This is a unique and innovative approach, but FIU-Netherlands is more than up to the task. It has a treasure-trove of knowledge and experience, gained over the past 25 years since mandatory reporting of unusual transactions was introduced in the Netherlands.

Project Piggyback focuses on the fruit sector. I’m sure that every one of you can name a sector in your country that is especially vulnerable to criminal activity and money laundering. It would be great if you could set up your own comprehensive approach to help that sector recover.

Work together with financial institutions, bona fide companies and your legislature. That’s what FIU-Netherlands did, and the results speak for themselves.

This week the Dutch finance minister, Wopke Hoekstra, and I presented our Joint Action Plan on Money Laundering. This plan will give FIU-Netherlands more capacity and faster access to bank account information.

If we make it harder to launder money, we’ll make it harder to finance terrorism, too. That’s easier said than done. But this too is one of your key tasks. And it’s a complex one. Not least because of the growth of small cells and lone actors. I’m eager to learn about your expertise and ideas on stopping the funding of this kind of terrorism. Countries should be working together more closely and effectively in this area.

I’ll close with a quote from Groucho Marx, a famous Hollywood scoundrel: ‘While money can't buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.’

Money is all about a person’s choices. The same goes for money laundering and the financing of terrorism. We have a choice too. The choice to work together. To make sure there are no appealing choices left.

Thank you.