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Crime pays in Belgium, say magistrates in new book

Thanks to a lack of manpower and resources, it is virtually impossible in Belgium to carry out the necessary research into the finances of major criminals, according to a new book by a group of magistrates.

Crime must not be allowed to pay,” says the foreword of the book, ‘Financieel Rechercheren’ (Financial Investigations). “The belief with which many say that is in stark contrast to how little priority is given to combating the business model specific to certain types of crime.”

One of the main authors of the book is Theo Byl, an investigating magistrate in Mechelen involved in two major ongoing business investigations, into the defunct fashion group FNG, and the shop chain Mega World/Blokker, declared bankrupt only yesterday.

The fact that crime seems to be very rewarding to this day is illustrated, among other things, by the persistent presence of forms of crime that are hardly controllable,” the book reads.

Although the book concentrates on financial crimes as commonly thought of, it also makes clear that all forms of serious crime are financial and economic at their heart: drugs, human trafficking, cybercrime, prostitution. If a crime does not have money as its main motive, it is likely either a crime of passion or a terrorist act

There is no doubt about the importance of financial investigations. Financial investigation should be an integral part of an overall crime strategy.”

But the reality on the ground is very different. Police and justice services are lamentably under-equipped, in terms of material and in terms of manpower. A major fraud enquiry, for example, would takes dozens of investigators or more, each of them capable of understanding the money trail created by fraudsters precisely to make it impossible to track them down.

Worthwhile initiatives that have been taken since the 1990s, often inspired by internationally imposed recommendations, often run into a dire lack of people and resources. An integrated financial investigation policy has not yet been achieved. There is no question of an integrated loot-oriented approach. A comprehensive policy remains non-existent.”

The book calls on the government to introduce a systematic pairing of a financial investigation in every serious case of a criminal investigation. And it offers the model of the iCOV in the Netherlands – the infobox for Criminal and Unexplained Assets – a cooperation between police, customs, tax inspectors, the anti-money laundering unit and the prosecutor’s office.

That kind of approach is almost non-existent in Belgium,” the book concludes.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times