Eurojust and COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has been a challenge for society and the judiciary across the European Union.

In 2020, Eurojust continued to be fully operational in assisting prosecutors in all Member States, ensuring that cross-border crime is tackled and decisive action is taken against criminals abusing the situation.

Closed borders and lockdowns don’t stop criminals. They adapt quickly, and this is what we are witnessing now. Eurojust stands ready, as always, to combat cross-border crime regardless of the circumstances. This pandemic reinforces our conviction that the fight against organised crime calls for a profound digitalisation of judicial cooperation in criminal matters. It is solely because of digital solutions, such as videoconferencing and secure connections for information exchange, that Eurojust has been able to remain operational in the past months.

Ladislav Hamran, President of Eurojust, addressing European Ministers in the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council on 4 June 2020

Eurojust and COVID-19

Operational continuity

  • From the time of the outbreak of the pandemic, Eurojust opened 3240 new cases, including 164 directly related to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • During the same period, Eurojust organised 286 coordination meetings (of which 232 were held via videoconference), 14 coordination centres and supported the establishment of 58 new joint investigation teams.
  • In some of these cases, Member States asked Eurojust’s support in specific COVID-19-related offences such as fraud related to the selling of face masks. In other cases, Eurojust has intervened to facilitate the execution of judicial cooperation instruments, such as European Arrest Warrants (EAWs) and European Investigation Orders (EIOs), impacted by the application of the COVID-19-related measures.

Guidance & support

  • To further support practitioners, in April 2020, the Council gave a mandate to Eurojust and the European Judicial Network (EJN) to prepare a compilation of all information collected on the impact on judicial cooperation in criminal matters of measures taken in the Member States, Iceland and Norway to combat the spread of COVID-19. The report analysed the main practical and legal issues arising from the current COVID-19 crisis as reported by the national authorities. This compilation was updated at least every two weeks and published as a Council document [LIMITE].
  • The COVID-19 crisis had a considerable impact on the application of all judicial cooperation instruments. The execution of judicial cooperation requests that require cross-border movement or physical presence of persons – such as EAWs and the extradition and transfer of sentenced persons – had been most affected. This was mainly caused by the closure of borders and cancellation of flights.
  • The restriction of physical movement has led most States to rely on alternative digital solutions, such as email or videoconferencing, for the execution of requests for judicial cooperation. In this way, for example, the hearing of persons can take place via a videoconference or requests and procedural documents be transmitted electronically. The COVID-19 crisis has shown even more clearly that digitalising the way investigators, prosecutors and judges work together is the future of judicial cooperation in criminal matters for a safe and just Europe.
  • Eurojust also developed Guidelines on Operational Support during the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate the execution of its core business activities during the physical restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 crisis. The guidelines cover, in particular, the use of secure videoconferencing systems to allow prosecutors to still meet under the auspices of Eurojust and discuss cooperation strategies on common cases during the pandemic.
  • Eurojust reviewed the COVID-19-related casework to analyse common issues and solutions. The Report on the impact of COVID-19 on Eurojust casework is expected to be released at the beginning of 2021.

Events and activities

Cross-border crimes related to the COVID-19 crisis

Eurojust supported 164 cases that presented issues related to the COVID-19 crisis. Many of them concerned particular cross-border crimes exploiting the COVID-19 crisis:

  • In Germany, judicial and law enforcement authorities uncovered a large-scale fraud with an offer of 10 million face masks for EUR 15 million, for which one German state had shown an interest. Alleged suppliers in Asia were supposed to deliver the masks to a German sales company, via other European distributors, to be finally handed over in the Netherlands. The perpetrators tricked the German sales company into paying an advance of EUR 2.4 million to accounts in other European countries. On the day of the planned delivery in the Netherlands, it became clear that the German sales company had become the victim of fraud. The German Desk at Eurojust provided active support to the investigations, ensuring judicial cooperation with three countries. Two suspects were arrested in the Netherlands and over EUR 2 million in assets have been frozen.
  • In France, a company in Dijon became the victim of swindling by unknown perpetrators using a Hungarian enterprise, supposedly selling protection masks and hydro-alcoholic hand gel. The French company ordered protection supplies for an amount of EUR 132 500, which were never delivered, while the money had immediately been transferred to Hungary. The Public Prosecutor's Office of Dijon issued a European freezing order to recover the money and requested Eurojust to facilitate its urgent execution. Via rapid and close collaboration between the French and Hungarian National Desks, the total amount was frozen on the Hungarian bank account. Further investigations are ongoing in this case.
  • In Brno in the Czech Republic, most of the computer system of a hospital was hacked by a criminal organisation, which had encrypted the communications. This forced the temporary shutdown of the entire hospital despite the ongoing COVID-19 emergency as hospital staff were unable to obtain adequate information on patients. Via Eurojust, EIOs and requests for mutual legal assistance were issued to France and Switzerland to follow up investigations.

Impact on judicial cooperation

Publication cover

The Impact of COVID-19 on Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters: Analysis of Eurojust Casework

View report

The majority of coordination meetings organised through Eurojust takes place via secured video links, and Eurojust’s funding of joint investigation teams remains available.

From the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurojust’s casework showed that practitioners in the Member States were facing various difficulties in dealing with cases involving judicial cooperation in criminal matters. In May 2021, Eurojust published the report The Impact of COVID-19 on Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters, which identifies the specific difficulties in the application of the most commonly used instruments of judicial cooperation that resulted from the pandemic. Moreover, the report identifies the most frequently committed crimes that were directly linked to the pandemic. It also describes the role of Eurojust in relation to these issues and provides summaries of best practices.

The report complements the Joint Eurojust-EJN Compilation on the impact of COVID-19 on judicial cooperation in criminal matters, which focuses on the measures taken by the Member States to combat the spread of the virus and their impact on judicial cooperation in general terms. Since March 2020, this overview is updated on a weekly basis in cooperation with the European Judicial Network to continuously assist judicial authorities during challenging times:

  • The vast majority of Member States continue to issue European Arrest Warrants (EAWs) normally. In several Member States, the execution of the actual surrenders is being postponed to the end of the crisis.

  • Some Member States have indicated that the issuing of European Investigation Orders (EIOs) or requests for mutual legal assistance (MLA) continues as usual, while in others the issuing of these instruments has decreased and is subject to prioritisation. In some cases, EIOs are being issued and translated, but their transmission to the executing Member State is affected, suspended or postponed, except when urgent. In many Member States, the execution of EIOs and MLA requests has been restricted to urgent cases and/or postponed.

  • Many Member States have suspended the transfer of sentenced persons. Furthermore, in those Member States where the transfer of sentenced persons is still possible, an assessment is done on a case-by-case basis with urgent cases being prioritised.

  • In many Member States, the situation is unchanged with respect to freezing and confiscation orders while some Member States are prioritising only urgent cases. However, this prioritisation does not usually affect freezing orders as they are generally regarded as urgent due to the risk of dissipation of assets.

  • Joint investigation teams continue to operate regularly in most Member States, with the main difference that travel and physical meetings are not taking place but being replaced by electronic communication.

See the full executive summary (12 February 2021).

Rules of Procedure

To safeguard effective governance and efficient decision-making at Eurojust, including in exceptional circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic, an amendment to the Rules of Procedure of Eurojust was published on 29 July 2020. This allows the Agency to take decisions by videoconference in exceptional circumstances.

This was a necessary step as the containment measures taken by Member States to curb the spread of COVID-19 made it very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve the quorum of College members physically present at Eurojust during this period.

View the Council Decision on the amendment to Eurojust's Rules of Procedure in all EU languages.

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