EU launches anti-corruption package

What the package of rules foresees: directive and a new sanctions regime

There European Commission launches a package of anti-corruption rules which essentially includes two things: one directive which aims to modernize the EU legislative frameworkdating back to twenty years ago, plus a new sanctions regime which targets “serious” acts of corruption outside the EU, but not only acts that pose a risk to the common foreign and security policy. The sanctions aim at targeting corruption phenomena prejudicial to the interests of the common foreign and security policy without any geographical limitation, as is already the case for the sanctioning framework for human rights violations, which also has an extra-territorial nature.

The new sanctioning regime adds to the forty-one already existing in EU legislation: only two of these, the one for Lebanon and the one for Moldova, currently envisage corruption as a possible cause of sanctions. The measures envisaged are, as in other schemes, a freeze on any assets held in the EU, a ban on financing by EU entities and a ban on travel to the EU. It is not excluded that the sanctions could also be directed at EU citizens, even if it probably won’t be the most frequent case, explains an EU source.

There directive has three objectives: harmonize corruption-related crimes and related sanctions in the EU; ensure effective investigation and punishment of crimes; increase the prevention of corruption phenomena. In addition to corruption, the common list of crimes also includes trading in influence, abuse of office, obstruction of justice and illicit enrichment.

He comes proposed raising the minimum thresholds for penalties for corruption and obstruction of justice. Additional penalties are also provided for those convicted of corruption, such as disqualification from public office and exclusion from access to public funds, measures that also apply to companies. The directive intends to harmonize aggravating circumstances: for example, in imposing the penalty, account should be taken of the rank of the official (the higher it is, the more serious the crime is) and also of the fact that the crime was perpetrated for the benefit of countries outside the EU or organized crime.

In parallel, it comes a harmonization of mitigating circumstances is foreseen: for example, people who help find evidence are eligible for sentence reductions; companies can obtain reduced sentences if they demonstrate that they have taken preventive measures, or if they have immediately reported the crime to the authorities, as soon as they become aware of it. As regards the second objective, to ensure effective investigation and punishment, Member States should ensure that the authorities have all the appropriate investigative tools to detect and detect crime, for example through telephone tapping. Furthermore, for the EU, immunities must not hinder investigative activity: they must be able to be removed with clear procedures.

However, given that immunities are a strictly national competence and therefore the risk of violating the principle of subsidiarity is clearly present, the directive does not intend to harmonize immunities in the various EU countries, but only, explained a senior EU official, to ensure that they can be removed with a transparent procedure and clear criteria. Minimum periods are also set during which investigations can be carried out, so that crimes cannot end up going unpunished. The directive contains measures to prevent corruption, such as rules on conflicts of interest, access to information, etc. Also included is a measure that, at least on paper, could be controversial: in the event that a public official has a very high income that probably comes from illegal sources, the authorities should be able to prosecute him, without necessarily having to prove the specific episode of corruption . It suffices that the judge is convinced that the subject’s wealth is of illicit origin and that there is no legal explanation for the accumulated wealth. In this case, explains a senior EU official, the person can be sentenced and his assets confiscated.