Corruption, new EU directive: tougher penalties and what it provides

New package of anti-corruption rules launched by the European Commission which aims to modernize, after 20 years, the already existing EU legislative framework and to punish serious acts of corruption of an extra-territorial nature, i.e. which take place outside the old continent and which undermine the common foreign and the security.

The objectives

The measures envisaged are: freezing of any assets held in the EU, a ban on financing by EU entities and a ban on travel to the EU. The directive has three objectives: to harmonize crimes related to corruption and the related sanctions in the EU; ensure effective investigation and punishment of crimes; increase the prevention of corruption phenomena. The very definition of corruption will be broadened to include among the crimes, in addition to corruption, also the trafficking of influences, abuse of office, obstruction of justice and illicit enrichment.

Raising the minimum penalty threshold

Raise the minimum thresholds for penalties for corruption and obstruction of justice. Ancillary penalties are foreseen for those convicted of corruption, such as disqualification from public office and exclusion from access to public funds, even for businesses. “Penalties for corruption within Member States vary greatly: ranging from a minimum of three months to a maximum of 15 years,” explains Commissioner Ylva Johansson. “Those who commit these crimes are interested in hiding them because they benefit from the statute of limitations.” The Commission therefore aims to have minimum sentences of between four and six years of imprisonment, in order to give the police forces the right tools to combat these crimes.

The aggravating circumstances

The other harmonization operation will be aimed at the “aggravating” and “mitigating” circumstances, so that they do not differ between Member States. In imposing the penalty it will be necessary to take into account the rank of the official, the higher it is the more serious the crime is; and also whether the crime was committed for the benefit of a third country or organized crime. Also news on extenuating circumstances: people who help find evidence can benefit from sentence reductions; companies can obtain reduced penalties if they demonstrate that they have taken preventive measures, or if they have immediately reported the crime to the authorities.

Effective investigation and punishment

Member States should ensure that authorities have all the appropriate investigative tools to uncover and detect crimes. Tightening against impunity, in particular for parliamentarians, whose immunity will have to be revoked “quickly” with transparent procedures and clear criteria in order to proceed with the investigation. The minimum periods during which investigations can be carried out are set, so that crimes do not become statute-barred, and therefore can end up going unpunished. Finally, in the event that a public official has a very high income that probably comes from illegal sources, the authorities must be able to prosecute him, without necessarily having to prove the specific episode of corruption.