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Eurojust co-ordinated large international smuggling case

The Hague, 15 April 2011

Thanks to Eurojust, the unprecedented challenge of co-ordinating judicial and police co-operation in five different Member States resulted in successful surprise house searches and arrests of suspects.

Italian authorities began their investigation of an organised crime group involved in tobacco smuggling, counterfeiting of documents, transport and legal assistance to the arrested members. However, the prosecutor soon realised that he needed to perform an EU-wide operation consisting of:

  • Executing several arrests in different countries at the same time, following the receipt of European arrest warrants that had just been issued and would not arrive in time;
  • Performing searches in the residences/workplaces/vehicles of the people to be arrested; and
  • Having Italian law-enforcement officers present during the above-mentioned operations so that the evidence could be gathered and admissible in court in the Italian hearings.

These requests typically follow different procedures in each Member State. The law enforcement bodies in each Member State do not communicate with each other; the requests must be processed, evaluated and authorised by each Member State’s judicial authorities and then – finally –organised in advance of their execution by different police forces.

In this case, the requests for all of the police actions arrived on the desk of the Italian National Member at Eurojust approximately 40 hours before the precise time that they had to be simultaneously performed in five Member States. If the opportunity to perform these searches was lost, or arrests were made but no house search could be performed in a single Member State, those suspects remaining at large would realise that the criminal organisation was being dismantled, and would have used that opportunity to escape or destroy both physical and electronic evidence. As a result, the global picture of the criminal organisation’s work would have been lost, diminishing the trial’s likelihood of success.

At the moment that these requests were made, the other Member States’ national authorities were completely unaware of the Italian requests for assistance - and because of the project’s urgency, there was no time to officially transmit papers via the regular legal assistance regime.

After the prompt reactions of the involved National Members at Eurojust (Austria, Germany, Greece, Spain and Slovenia), the Italian Desk stayed in contact with them and with the Italian judicial and police authorities on a 24-hour basis, via both online and mobile communications. Thanks to this co-ordination, all of the necessary authorities were brought together in roughly 20 hours; all of the authorities were kept informed and involved; both the EAWs and letters rogatory were processed and authorised; and the Italian police officers were able to arrive at the various search locations in time to observe them. It is important to remember that these police actions are, in some countries, authorised by different courts.

The differences between the national jurisdictional schemes made the value of working with Eurojust clear. For example, in Spain, the searches had to be conducted in different jurisdictions; by comparison, it was possible to solve this problem in Slovenia by sending a single letter rogatory, asking the Italian prosecutor to write an additional request and forwarding it to Slovenia via Eurojust in real time.

Everything went successfully. Without the support of Eurojust, this action would not have been possible. In light of amount of multi-tasking and the multiple procedural systems involved, the need for judicial and police co-ordination, and the limited time available to make the operation a success, the result is one of Eurojust’s most effective co-ordinating successes.

After the successful action, Mr Lo Voi, National Member for Italy, commented: "Eurojust has shown once again its enormous and incomparable skills in co-ordinating transnational judicial and police activities, and particularly in combating organised crime. I'd like to thank all of the involved National Members and Desks at Eurojust for the great support provided in a very short time."

For more information, please contact:

Mr Joannes THUY, Spokesperson - Head of Press & PR Service
EUROJUST, Maanweg 174, 2516 AB, The Hague, the Netherlands
Tel +31 70 412 5508
E-mail: jthuy[AT]eurojust.europa.eu

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