In 2017, the District Regional Information & Expertise Centres (ARIEC/PAALCO) kicked-off in Belgium. These are three-person cells that consist of a criminologist coordinator, a lawyer and an information broker. There are centres in Antwerp, Limburg and Namur. An evaluation on the work of the centres still needs to be carried out.
The centres raise awareness among local authorities to deal with organised crime in their administration and they support the local authorities with legal expertise and with methods that have proven success. They also share knowledge regarding good practices of administrative approach initiatives and ensure that supra-local phenomena that are spread over several municipalities are followed up. The administrative approach can be used preventively, for example by applying the police regulations.
The tasks of an ARIEC/PAALCO consists of:
- raising awareness of administrative approaches through various initiatives
- supporting the local authorities and police
- exchange of information and knowledge between different partners
- developing expertise
- developing partnerships and networks
Serious and organised crime does not stop at borders. Therefore, to fight it, a cross-border pilot project on the administrative approach, financed by the European Commission, was set up: a Euregional information and expertise centre (EURIEC) for the administrative approach to organised crime. The centre must ensure better cooperation and faster information exchange mainly on an administrative level between Belgium, North Rhine-Westphalia and the Netherlands. This is in addition to the existing cooperation between the police and the Public Prosecution Service across the borders.
The main goal is to give the administrative authorities in the Euregio Meuse-Rhine border region more rapid opportunities to tackle criminals together, by sharing knowledge and information. In addition, the centre can help prevent criminals in the other country from continuing their criminal activities undisturbed.
The establishment of the EURIEC is a direct consequence of the Benelux cooperation in the field of the administrative approach. In 2018 the Dutch Minister of Justice and Security, Ferdinand Grapperhaus, stated: “We are indebted to the Benelux working group on administrative approach, which suggested this pilot in its Tackling Crime Together report. That report mainly addressed the question of how the Benelux and Germany can work together as well as possible in tackling so-called 'outlaw motorcycle gangs'. The European Council and the European Commission embraced the idea for a test. (...) partners from the Benelux and Germany, who have questions regarding criminals operating across the borders can come to this centre to solve their problems.”
The European Union has made 1 million euros available for the project. The project is scientifically supervised by the universities of Leuven, Maastricht and Cologne and was initially designed for 2 years starting in September 2019. Ideally, the basis for legislative changes should then have been laid in all three countries.
CONFINE stands for: “Towards operational cooperation on local administrative financial investigations in the fight against human trafficking”. In this project, the cities of Genk and Antwerp, the Regional Information and Expertise Centre (RIEC) of Zeeland, West Brabant and East Brabant and KU Leuven joined forces to gain better insight into the phenomenon of human trafficking, more specifically into the administrative and financial indicators, the opportunities for the exchange of information, and how this phenomenon can be tackled locally.
Due to a greater awareness of the phenomenon, local authorities are increasingly confronted with signs of trafficking in human beings on their territory. The displacement effect is related to this. For example, criminal groups are moving from the Netherlands to Belgium, since the Netherlands has been making efforts at administrative level for a number of years. Criminal organisations make flexible use of the limitations of the government, find the path of least resistance, and settle where enforcement is the weakest.
Reports from citizens, city and/or police services often concern specific sectors that are sensitive to trafficking, such as hotel and catering, massage parlours, valet car washes, night shops, fruit picking, transport and construction. Human traffickers must make use of the legal circuit to provide housing for victims of trafficking, for example, or to launder revenues gained from exploitation. The opportunity lies in the areas where the underworld connects with legitimate society, the local government can pick up these signals and take actions to tackle serious and organised crime.
Some of the sectors mentioned are subject to compulsory licensing by local authorities, which includes preliminary investigations such as those concerning the fire safety of the premises, the morality of the operator and finances. However, the financial investigation is often limited to reviewing all claims by the local authorities themselves, which does not always result in the detection of criminal activities and the possible refusal of the operating permit. Buildings plagued by nuisance are subjected to a cadastral investigation and an inquiry into housing quality. Here again the financial investigation is limited to a review of other property of the owner according to the locally available cadastral data.
Because of these shortcomings, human traffickers can use the legal economy to further their illegal activities, sometimes even with government support in the form of subsidies or social assistance.
Both during the granting of the permit and during the execution of the aforementioned activities, an in-depth administrative screening of financial data – including research into legal corporate structures and research into assets and bank account cash flows – reveals indications of trafficking in human beings. After all, nuisance reports and rack-renting are not always directly related to human trafficking, but can be a starting point for a more thorough investigation.
The objective is to be able to screen the listed sectors based on administrative and financial criteria that are indicative of human trafficking, so that traffickers are not given the opportunity to develop their illegal practices or that trafficking in human beings can be detected and/or stopped at an early stage. This is because local authorities have the opportunity to frustrate criminals through administrative measures, by creating or changing conditions, so that there are fewer possibilities or that such an activity becomes less attractive. This can be done by refusing an operating permit or subsidy and closing business enterprises, without jeopardising the judicial investigation. The administrative approach complements the criminal-law approach. Not all local governments are convinced that they can be of added value in the fight against human trafficking. The aim of CONFINE is also to put the importance of the fight against human trafficking on the map in the local government and to offer these local governments a perspective for taking action.