Share article:
Share article:

Report: Pandemic allowed organised crime to flourish

© Analogicus at Pixabay

The Covid-19 pandemic allowed organised crime to flourish in 2020, according to figures from Belgium’s anti-money laundering cell (CTIF-CFI) in its latest annual report (FRNL).

The cell, which examines movements of money to try to detect when money is being laundering by a variety of techniques, opened 1,228 case files which were then sent on to the various prosecutors’ offices in the country.

In total, those files were concerned with no less than €1.63 billion – more than the €1.15 billion in 2019, and one billion more than in 2015.

The pandemic and health crisis show that fraudsters and criminals are adapting very quickly to changing economic conditions or the emergence of extreme situations, under the motto ‘never waste a good crisis’” writes chairman Philippe de Koster in the report.

The health crisis opened up whole new possibilities for counterfeiters and fraudsters, flooding the market with fake and inferior face masks, hand sanitiser, test kits and even ventilators.

At the beginning of the crisis there was great public uncertainty as well as a shortage of officially-sanctioned versions, so the criminals were able to achieve high prices. Since then, however, genuine manufacturers have been able to make up for lost time, while the fraudsters appear to have flooded themselves out of the market. The cost of simple face masks, for example, has plummeted in recent weeks.

Related News


The huge turn towards teleworking also opened up opportunities to online criminals, using techniques of phishing – tricking users into revealing private details to allow fraud by impersonation – and other kinds of cyber-crime.

Among those was the use of ransomware to block computers, usually of companies, and then demand payment to unlock the system. Last year 42% of Belgian companies suffered a cyber-attack of one kind or another according to one study, and 18% suffered more than 15 attacks.

The cases also involved fraud relating to government subsidies and grants to help companies through the crisis, such as claiming lockdown coverage for companies that were shells only, with not a single employee, and claiming temporary unemployment for fictitious employees.

And sometimes, the fraud was of the simplest kind. The cell investigates evidence of suspicious amounts of cash being paid into the account of one bar, which was supposed to be closed because of the virus. The money, that might have gone unnoticed in normal times, turned out to come from drug dealing.

CTIF-CFI also drew attention to the long-term consequences of the health crisis.

The possibility that parts of our troubled economy will turn to criminal circles cannot be excluded,” De Koster writes.

Numerous catering establishments or textile companies in difficulty that, for example, can no longer receive bank credit may see no other way out than to turn to criminal circles to find the necessary cash input, ot to become easy prey to take part in money laundering.”

Latest news

Experts call for more widespread use of masks as figures rise
As coronavirus figures continue to rise, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has suggested that people return to wearing masks when indoors with ...
Belgium wants to recover €420 million in wrongfully paid out coronavirus aid
The Belgian State intends to recover €420 million of unduly paid Covid-19 aid, La Libre Belgique reported on Thursday. The electronic Council of ...
Why the fight for transgender rights is polarising Europe 
Year after year, Samuel De Schepper would ask Santa Claus to bring him a penis for Christmas. Born female and attending an all girl’s Catholic ...
New offshore wind farm officially opened
Despite being operational since the end of 2020, the SeaMade offshore wind farm was officially inaugurated on Wednesday by Prime Minister Alexander ...
Contact tracers have no time for calls, only texts, amid rising cases
Contract tracers will no longer make phone calls to the high-risk contacts of people who test positive for the coronavirus beginning from Wednesday, ...
Belgium holds on to top spot in FIFA rankings despite recent losses
Once again, Belgium's Red Devils have held onto their position at the top of the world football rankings, according to an update released by the ...
Proximus pushes for high-speed internet in Brussels and Wallonia
Fifteen municipalities in Wallonia should soon have access to high-speed internet through the rollout of fibre optics in the region, telecoms giant ...
Why Belgium is regulating sex work
After decades of confusing rules and hypocritical policy, Belgium is finally regulating sex work by removing prostitution from the criminal law. ...
World’s largest chocolate warehouse opens in Flanders
On Thursday, Barry Callebaut – the largest global chocolate processor and manufacturer – opened the world's largest chocolate warehouse in Lokeren, ...
Belgium in Brief: Equal Opportunity To Dance
There's a phrase where I'm from, more often said in jest nowadays, but it came to my mind this morning: "Ye dancin'?" (Are you dancing?), one ...
Farmer discovers cocaine in banana boxes bought in Brussels
A Flemish farmer who purchased boxes of bananas at the market in Brussels on Tuesday came home to discover large amounts of cocaine packed among the ...
Changes to speed cameras increase likelihood of a ticket
Changes to the way speed cameras work in Flanders and Wallonia will increase the likelihood of receiving a ticket when cars pass them above the ...