Israel and EU ink agreement on fighting organized crime, cybercrime, terrorism

Amid crisis in bilateral relations, Europol inks first-ever agreement with the police force of a non-EU member state

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich with Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle in The Hague, July 17, 2018 (courtesy Europol)
Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich with Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle in The Hague, July 17, 2018 (courtesy Europol)

Amid an ongoing crisis in bilateral ties, Israel on Wednesday signed an agreement with the European Union’s law enforcement agency to strengthen cooperation in the joint fight against terrorism and organized crime.

The “working agreement” was signed by Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich and Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle in The Hague.

The signing marked Europol’s first-ever working agreement with a country that is not a member of the EU.

“The agreement will enable the Investigations and Intelligence Division of the Israel National Police to advance its capabilities to deal in the best way possible with new threats in the field of organized crime, cybercrime exploited by international criminal and terrorist elements, fighting terrorism in its various forms, and crime that crosses borders in the field of social economies,” Alsheich said, according to a press release issued by Europol.

The agreement is meant to primarily expand cooperation “to combat cross-border criminal activity,” according to the press release. It allows for the exchange of “strategic information” and the joint planning of operational activities.

Once it enters into force, the agreement will boost bilateral efforts to tackle “priority crime areas” affecting both the EU and Israel, such as fraud, cybercrime, and terrorism, the statement went on.

“Investigations in the EU have occasionally established links to Israel in the field of financial crime. As Europol supports EU Member States in identifying cross-border links, the Israeli contribution in such cases continues to be of utmost importance.”

International law enforcement bodies have long expressed their frustration at Israel’s inaction concerning financial fraud. The signing of this arrangement appears to signal a step towards ameliorating this situation.

Over the last decade, Israel has become a global hub of investment scams, employing more than 10,000 citizens — many of them new immigrants and foreign-language speakers — in boiler rooms throughout the country, selling fraudulent binary options, forex, CFDs (contracts for differences), and cryptocurrency investments over the phone and internet to people abroad.

Victims are lured into investments under false pretenses, and the vast majority lose their money. When the victim protests, the “broker” more often than not disappears with the money.

Binary options fraud alone was estimated to be earning between $5 billion and $10 billion a year before, in the wake of reporting by The Times of Israel, it was banned by a Knesset law last October that took effect on January 26. Some binary options operatives have simply ignored the ban, continuing to offer the product from Israel, while others now sell fraudulent forex or cryptocurrency investments, and still others have moved their operations abroad to countries including Russia, Ukraine, Philippines, Panama, Poland, Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Serbia.

De Bolle said that Tuesday’s agreement was a “a major step forward in enhancing” the relationship between the police forces of Israel and the EU.

“The arrangement will multiply contacts at all levels and open doors to closer cooperation, making the European Union and Israel safer.”

The agreement marks a rare positive development in Israel-EU ties, which have been undergoing a serious crisis in recent weeks.

Earlier on Tuesday, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan publicly sparred with the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, accusing the union of supporting groups promoting boycotts to Israel and being affiliated with terrorist groups.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned the EU’s ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem for a dressing-down after a television report that cited the envoy saying the Knesset’s controversial nation-state bill “reeks of racism.”

Giaufret denies having used derogatory language to describe the legislation.

In June, Netanyahu refused to meet Mogherini in Jerusalem, causing her to cancel a planned trip to Israel.

Simona Weinglass contributed to this report.

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