The spider's web: Europol goes global in the hunt for intelligence and analysis: Part 3

This is the third article in a three-part series. The first article examined Brazil and Mexico, while the second looked at Georgia.

Going to the Gulf: the United Arab Emirates

Europol's interest in signing a cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - a small, politically repressive and geopolitically important state - rests on the fact that it is "increasingly relevant as a hub and a sanctuary for organised crime" and is "becoming a growing hub for economic and financial crime." [1]

"Proceeds from criminal activities such as Value Added Tax (VAT) fraud, Missing Trade Intra Community (MTIC) fraud and money laundering have been reinvested in the UAE and key criminals involved in these frauds have sought refuge there," according to Europol's "business case" for signing an agreement with the country.

The UK and Europol worked together in February 2010 to address MTIC fraud perpetrated by individuals in Dubai, and in May 2011 a meeting involving the UK and other participants in the Analysis Work File on MTIC "hosted a meeting at Europol" which "established a Europol-facilitated network."

At the end of July 2011, this led "to the arrest of a French national involved in cocaine trafficking and VAT fraud in emissions trading," but there is concern that individuals located in Dubai and involved in the "short 2008-09 bubble of fraud" in emissions markets are now "turning their attention to other commodities, such as wholesale gas and electricity or metals markets."

No smoke without fire

Europol also give significant attention to the issue of cigarette smuggling: "A significant number of illicit cigarettes seized in the EU are produced in the Middle East, particularly in FTZs [free trade zones] in the UAE."

Free trade zones are areas in which the import, export and processing of goods can take place without any intervention by customs authorities. In 2010 the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) - a body that emerged from a 1990 G7 initiative and which was critically examined last year in a Statewatch and Transnational Institute report [2] - estimated that there are "approximately 3,000 FTZs in 135 countries around the world with a total turnover in the billions of dollars." The FATF says they "are misused for money laundering and terrorist financing." [3]

Europol quotes claims made by British American Tobacco that "the UAE facilities have a manufacturing capacity of over 55 billion sticks per year and produce over 50 different brands. Four of the manufacturing facilities located within the UAE FTZs are problematic."

Counterfeiting of other goods is also a problem, and the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai is marked out for special attention. Here, "the real origin of goods is concealed to avoid EU Customs risk profiling. This concerns all types of goods, including those potentially dangerous for consumers' health, such as medicines."

Building bridges

Europol has recommended that high priority be given to concluding an operational agreement with the UAE (which would allow the exchange of personal data). Along with its links to organised crime, fraud, money laundering, intellectual property crime and cigarette smuggling, the Emirates "are potentially a key partner in the Gulf region in the fight against terrorism and could be a valuable source of information for EU security bodies."

"Only 0.01% of the information stored in the [counter-terrorism Analysis Work File] is related to the UAE," says Europol. The UAE has not so far spontaneously offered information, and no EU member state has "acted as a bridge for data exchange."

Some member states have provided data, but "there are many limitations when it comes to sharing intelligence on the UAE with other member states. An operational agreement would provide member states with an invaluable connection to any area which is becoming increasingly relevant as a hub and a sanctuary for organised crime."

The EU's policing agency is also interested in reinforcing its own role: "an operational agreement would reinforce Europol as the major player in the fight against financial fraud throughout the EU, especially vis-à-vis a region with which member states have had difficulties in establishing operational cooperation in the past."

While the EU has diplomatic links with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with whom it signed a Cooperation Agreement in 1988 and of which the UAE is a member (along with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia), "security issues and, in particular, the fight against organised crime are not generally part of the regular dialogue," Europol says.

Bilateral relations

Some EU member states clearly have had less difficulty in establishing operational cooperation than others. The British state has strong and longstanding links with the UAE, including bilateral agreements between the Metropolitan Police and the Abu Dhabi Police, and New Scotland Yard's Crime Academy and the Dubai Police Academy.

The agreement between the Metropolitan and Abu Dhabi police forces apparently foresees "cooperation in the areas of public relations, training, exchange of expertise and information," [4] while the other allows "cooperation in training, expertise sharing and capacity building." [5]

Strategic relations outside of the policing sphere are also firmly established - defence cooperation appears to be thriving between EU member states and the UAE. The EU's own figures show that in 2010, 1,438 export licences were granted worth a total of €1,462,682,754. [6] In 2011 the number of licences dropped to 887, but the value of the licences increased to €1,904.032,990. [7]

Put human rights "at the centre" of relations "with all third countries"

In October last year the European Parliament issued a resolution on the human rights situation in the UAE, concluding that the EU should:

"Take concrete actions, together with the 27 Member States, to ensure a clear and principled policy vis-à-vis the UAE that addresses the ongoing serious human rights violations, through demarches, public statements and initiatives at the [UN] Human Rights Council."

It called for the EU "to place human rights at the centre of its relations with all third countries, including strategic partners, with special emphasis on the next EU-GCC meeting." [8]

The Parliament noted in a recent resolution the acceleration of a "crackdown on human rights defenders and civil society activists in 2012, bringing the number of political detainees to 64," most of whom "are in incommunicado detention." It is also alleged that the detainees have been tortured and denied legal assistance. Human Rights Watch has reported other allegations of torture in the country. [9]

"The evidence indicates that national security is the pretext for a crackdown on peaceful activism designed to stifle calls for constitutional reform and reform on human rights issues such as statelessness," the Parliament's resolution said.

The UAE subsequently claimed that the Parliament's resolution was "biased and prejudiced", leading to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, an NGO, to undertake an investigation, in conjunction with Human Rights Watch, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information and IFEX, and issue a separate report.

The report contains extensive evidence of political repression, a lack of procedural rights and inadequate detention conditions, and heavily criticised the legal system, the judiciary and the jury system used in the UAE. [10] It found that:

"The conclusions of the European Parliament are clearly accurate in the absence of any evidence to the contrary… International intervention is urgently required and the Western world should be reviewing human rights commitments in its dealings with the UAE, whilst the UAE continues to sanction such significant breaches of basic human rights."

As noted in the other articles in this series, it is not necessary for Europol to assess the human rights situation in the countries with which it makes agreements, and it is not obliged to consider human rights issues - although its founding legislation does say that "this Decision respects the fundamental rights and observes the principles recognised in particular by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union."

Nevertheless, only the appropriate quality of sources and "adequate" data protection safeguards are required for "an operational agreement between Europol and the UAE," which would "enable a direct information flow."

Widening the web

The proposed agreements with Brazil, Mexico, Georgia and the UAE would significantly increase the flow of information into the agency's computer systems, assisting it in the objective of "maximis[ing] operational added value from all cooperation agreements with external partners," as in Europol's 2013 work programme. [11]

Europol is clearly keen for this to happen as soon as possible - the agency requested that the list of states with which it can conclude agreements be changed despite acknowledging that it was "difficult" to undertake such a procedure "pending adoption of the new legal basis of the agency." The Commission is due to publish a proposal for a new legal basis for Europol this year.

Member states' representatives within the Council also are clearly interested in ensuring that negotiation on the new agreements can begin - in late December the European Law Enforcement Working Party called for the Parliament "to deliver its opinion as soon as possible." [12]

With a date yet to be set for a debate on the proposals within the European Parliament's civil liberties Committee, it has perhaps taken longer than Europol and member states' representatives would like. But whether the Parliament issues a positive or negative opinion, the Council is obliged to merely take it "into account", and it can have no binding effect on the outcome.

The Parliament has an opportunity to raise numerous issues with regard to the policies and practices of law enforcement authorities in Brazil, Mexico, Georgia and the UAE. These have been highlighted by its own members as well as by NGOs, human rights activists and others. Whether it will do so remains to be seen, but in any case, it seems almost certain that Europol will continue to spin its web of intelligence further across the globe.

[1] Europol, Business Case: Cooperation with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 18 June 2012
[2] Ben Hayes, Counter-terrorism 'policy laundering' and the FATF: Legalising surveillance, regulating civil society, Statewatch/Transnational Instititute, February 2012
[3] FATF, Money Laundering vulnerabilities of Free Trade Zones, March 2010
[4] Abu Dhabi, London police seek close ties, New Kerala
[5] Dubai police's academy, New Scotland Yard's crime academy ink MoU, UAE Interact, 24 July 2011
[6] Council of the European Union, Fourteenth Annual Report according to Article 8(2) of Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment, December 2012
[7] Council of the European Union, Thirteenth Annual Report according to Article 8(2) of Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment, December 2011
[8] European Parliament resolution of 26 October 2012 on the human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates
[9] United Arab Emirates, Human Rights Watch World Report 2013
[10] Gulf Center for Human Rights, European Resolution on the UAE: "Biased and Prejudiced?" / Mission to UAE investigates crackdown on free expression in which 64activists have been detained, 10 December 2012
[11] Europol, Europol Work Programme 2013, 12667/12, 17 July 2012; see also "Ambitious, yet realistic": Europol seeks to further increase its role in European policing, Statewatch News Online, September 2012
[12] General Secretariat of the Council, Draft Council Decision amending Decision 2009/935/JHA as regards the list of third States and organisations with which Europol shall conclude agreements - transmission to the European Parliament, 17043/12, 18 December 2012

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