Confiscation of the proceeds of crime

Much sown, meagre harvest

Under the motto ‘crime must nor pay’, additional budgets of at least €634.1 million were released between 2010 and 2021 to confiscate the proceeds of crime. But the results of the additional budgets have not matched the Minister of Justice and Security’s expectations. The Netherlands Court of Audit found that a lot has been sown in the past 10 years but the harvest has been meagre.

We asked whether the 5 additional budgets released between 2010 and 2021 had led to additional confiscations of the proceeds of crime. The Minister of Justice and Security (J&V) had thought the additional budgets would result in the confiscation of more criminal assets (additional revenue).

We concluded that the political ambitions were high but the results fell short of the minister’s expectations (see figure). The additional budgets at least ‘paid for themselves’ but the additional revenue actually received was limited. This is disappointing because apart from releasing additional budgets the minister had widened the scope of laws and regulations and revised policy in order to make it easier to confiscate criminal assets. The Minister of J&V has sown many seeds but the harvest has been meagre. Owing to the accumulation of additional budgets and, in particular, the absence of consistent registrations, evaluations and record keeping, we were unable to determine whether the additional budgets had been applied effectively and efficiently.

What are our recommendations?

The recently installed fourth Rutte government also has high ambitions to confiscate the proceeds of crime. We recommend that the Minister of J&V first put the foundations of the confiscation system in order and then build the government’s ambitions on a solid basis.

More specifically we recommend that the minister:

  • consult the Board of Procurators General to discuss structural improvements in the entire confiscation system. Discuss how policy formulation and policy implementation can be made more consistent and then formulate realistic financial goals. Invite the other parties in the confiscation system to take part in the discussions;
  • take the initiative to align effective policy with effective implementation and make sure that decisions are taken. Strengthen the confiscation system in the long term and take the initiative to decide how the foundations can be put in order so that ambitions can be realised;
  • put information management at the Ministry of J&V and the Public Prosecution Service (OM) in order so that all necessary information is in good condition, properly arranged and accessible. Formulate a single financial objective for the confiscation of criminal assets, work it out consistently into goals for the individual parties in the system and monitor their achievement by the system as a whole.

Why did we audit confiscation of the proceeds of crime?

Confiscation of the proceeds of crime has been high on the political agenda for many decades. The ambition is fed by two sources: crime must not pay and justice must be done. Successive governments and Ministers of J&V have invested in the confiscation of more criminal assets. Additional budgets have been released on several occasions to confiscate more proceeds of crime.

The Court of Audit investigated whether the measures taken by the minister and the 5 additional budget releases had effectively and efficiently achieved the ambition of confiscating more criminal assets. Our audit focused on the financial goals and results between 2010 and 2021. In keeping with the nature of the additional budgets, we compared the results achieved with the results of routine confiscation cases excluding high and exceptional out-of-court transactions.

What audit methods did we apply?

Our audit took a mixed methods approach. We used the strength of each method and linked the data we gathered to each other. We used the following audit techniques.

Document analysis

The first important basis for our audit was document analysis. We analysed both public and confidential documents at the Ministry of J&V, the OM, the National Police, The Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (FIOD), the Council for the Judiciary, courts, the Central Judicial Collection Agency (CJIB), the Research and Documentation Centre and other institutions involved in this area.

Interviews

To gain an understanding of the background and current status of the confiscation of the proceeds of crime we held in-depth interviews with experts and implementers in the system. The interviewees worked at both strategic and operational level for various organisations across the entire confiscation system. In total we interviewed about 40 experts.

Data analysis

We analysed data provided by the OM, Council for the Judiciary and CJIB on various aspects of the confiscation system. The data we requested concerned value confiscations, out-of-court settlements and out-of-court transactions initiated by the OM between 2010 and the end of 2020.

Using the OM’s data on confiscation cases we requested additional information from the judiciary and the CJIB based on the OM’s case number. We also received information from the Council for the Judiciary and the CJIB regarding the case numbers.

We aggregated all the data at the OM’s case number level. This means that offences in the OM’s files and the case numbers in the CJIB’s files were linked to a unique case number in our file. The next step was to link the case number to the value confiscation, out-of-court transaction or out-of-court settlement first initiated by the OM. We then carried out 2 analyses of the dataset:

  • the composition of the new annual inflow, analysed on a series of criteria: number of confiscation cases, type of confiscation instrument, seizures;
  • case developments during the period audited: changes in case times and/or confiscated criminal assets, by confiscation instrument where possible.

Case study

We carried out a case study to gain a better insight into how the system worked. We selected 4 confiscation cases for the study:

  • a simple, standard value confiscation,
  • a complicated value confiscation,
  • an out-of-court settlement,
  • an out-of-court transaction.

These 4 cases also included seizures and object confiscations. 2 of the cases are described in the report. 

Current status

The audit report was published on Wednesday 8 June 2022