The latest annual report produced by Eurojust, the EU’s cross-border crime-fighting agency, reveals a key post-Brexit role for the UK authorities, the prevalence of cross-border fraud, and the impact of the war in Ukraine. Sophie Wood and Phil Taylor examine the report and its implications.

Eurojust (the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation) was formally established in 2002, developing from a provisional judicial cooperation unit which came together three years previously. Since then, and bolstered on the way by provisions of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 and the Eurojust Regulation in 2019, it has grown and evolved significantly.

The agency is designed to act as a hub, allowing the national investigating and prosecuting authorities of EU Member States affected by serious cross-border crime to better coordinate resources and cooperate in their activities.

After the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, the UK’s relationship with Eurojust changed: it became a “Third Country” for the agency’s purposes. In general, EU legal instruments ceased to apply between the EU and UK at that point, but there are a number of exceptions in relation to ongoing judicial cooperation proceedings in criminal matters. In addition, some areas of joint work are now governed either entirely or partly by the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). This has allowed the UK’s involvement with Eurojust to continue, albeit on an amended basis. Since 1 January 2021, rather than seconding a National Member to the College of Eurojust (which acts as the agency’s operations arm), the United Kingdom has stationed a Liaison Prosecutor (“LP”) at Eurojust, joining LPs from nine other Third Countries including Switzerland, Ukraine and the US. The current Liaison Prosecutor, Christopher Williams, took up the post in March 2022 having previously worked as a prosecutor within the Specialist Fraud Division of the Crown Prosecution Service.

Despite the change in relationship, according to Eurojust’s latest annual report the UK continues to take a leading role with the agency. The UK was reportedly the Third Country which participated in the highest number of Eurojust cases in 2022, involving itself in a total of 315. This is also more cases than the majority of Member States opened in 2022 (only Germany, Spain [A1] [A2] and Italy initiated more).

Along with Switzerland, the UK played a leading role in dealing with economic crime cases, including money laundering and corruption. This may indicate the country’s levels of expertise in this area, but also that the jurisdiction continues to be a prime target for those involved in cross-border economic crime. In 2022, the UK also played a key part in establishing and working with a joint investigation team (JIT) which dealt with disrupting a criminal network dealing in human trafficking from Romania, as well as a role in a major operation targeting migrant smuggling in the English Channel – indicators of the types of crime cross-border crime often encountered in this jurisdiction.[A3] [A4]

Eurojust formally focuses on a number of key ‘crime types’, many relating to organised crime. The latest annual report shows that Eurojust’s casework grew by 14% in 2022, with more than 5,227 new cases opened and more than ongoing 6,000 cases carried over from previous years.

Fraud is the number one cross-border crime type handled by the agency: in 2022, 1,655 new fraud cases were opened in addition to the 2,028 cases which were carried over from previous years. Drug trafficking and money laundering were in second and third places, respectively.

This statistic reflects ongoing trends on a national level, including in the UK which was recently labelled the fraud capital of the world and where the government has revealed a number of initiatives aiming to tackle the country’s unprecedented economic crime problems.

Unsurprisingly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also had a significant effect on the work – and role – of Eurojust. The report explains that the agency has played a key part in investigating and prosecuting alleged war crimes in Ukraine by way of its work helping to establish a JIT initially involving national authorities from Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, and later involving Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia and Romania. In 2022, 18 cases relating to alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine were opened at Eurojust. Ukraine’s Liaison Prosecutor is involved in all of the cases.

The Report also discusses the work conducted 2022 to set up the International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine (ICPA), which was formally opened in March 2023 with the goal supporting and enhancing investigations in this area by securing key evidence and facilitating case building at the earliest possible stage. This follows the creation of the Core International Crimes Evidence Database (CICED), in April 2022, in response to the material emanating from Ukraine and in order to enable a secure, centralised, database to store evidence of core international crimes. These initiatives compliment the operational support Eurojust has already been providing to the EU Freeze and Seize Task Force, which was set up in March 2022 to ensure the efficient implementation of EU sanctions against Russian and Belarussian oligarchs across the bloc, by coordinating EU Member States’ enforcement of Union sanctions through criminal law.[A5] [A6] [A7]

The workings of Eurojust, as described in its annual report, make an interesting and enlightening study of how cross-border cooperation which transcends political boundaries can significantly disrupt transnational crime. Less positively, it also reveals the scale of the global problem of serious organised crime, and makes a strong case for further and greater investment in national as well as cross-border law enforcement and justice systems.