New instruments for tackling criminal activity

New instruments are being introduced to support the fight against organised crime. As part of efforts to tackle money laundering, it will soon become possible to place an immediate emergency freeze on suspicious transactions so that they can be investigated. This will help prevent criminals from siphoning off the proceeds of their crimes. Smuggling dirty cash, weapons or drugs placed in hidden spaces in cars, lorries or boats will also become more difficult through the criminalisation of ownership of these forms of transport and of the construction of hidden spaces for criminal purposes.

Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius (Justice and Security) wants the updates to the law to immediately include these two new instruments. The maximum fines for more serious forms of theft will also be increased, given the often substantial profits generated by these crimes. It will also be easier to move major criminal cases to a different court. Following a proposal by the Minister, the government has decided to pass the legislative proposal on ‘Reinforcing the criminal-law approach to subversive crime 2’ on to the Council of State for its recommendations, where this will be handled.  

Minister Yeşilgöz:

‘The fight against organised crime requires us to continually keep our legislation and instruments up to date. Driven by enormous profits, criminals constantly try new and often ruthlessly violent ways of furthering their illegal trades. That’s why we want to destroy the underlying criminal structures too. In so doing, we will stop criminal assets, weapons and drugs from continuing to circulate in our society, and we will prevent dirty money and weapons being used for new criminal activities.’

Emergency asset freeze

Seizing criminal assets is an important way of destroying criminal power structures. If we are to do this more effectively, it’s important to detect criminal money flows at the earliest possible stage so that they can be intercepted. Payment transactions are becoming faster and borders are no barrier to them. Criminals try to exploit this to siphon off their criminal profits, often to locations abroad.

The emergency asset freeze of unusual transactions creates a new legal instrument to combat money laundering. The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU-Netherlands) will be able to use the emergency freeze to ask a bank to temporarily halt a financial transaction. That’s currently not yet possible, which means the criminal money is often already siphoned off before FIU-Netherlands has been able to investigate, trace and confiscate the funds. The emergency asset freeze is something that neighbouring countries already use. The new instrument is therefore also expected to improve international cooperation.

Hidden spaces

Criminals increasingly make use of hidden spaces in cars, lorries or boats for their illegal trade. In 2015, the police, customs and the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee found approximately 150 such vehicles. This increased to around 600 in 2020. Vehicles with hidden spaces that are clearly intended to be used for criminal purposes such as the transportation of drugs, weapons or criminal money, are now impounded. But there’s no penalty associated with it. Prohibiting the ownership of these specially adapted vehicles means action can be taken. The construction of these hidden spaces for criminal purposes will also become illegal. Secure storage spaces for clearly legal purposes – such as for storing the daily takings of a legitimate business activity – will not be criminalised.

Under the new legislation, anyone guilty of equipping a vehicle with a hidden space designed for criminal purposes, and anyone who owns such a vehicle, can expect a prison sentence of up to one year.