Prevention is better than cure

annemarie van gaalAnnemarie van Gaal thinks it’s time to stop criminals living off the proceeds of their criminal activities. But it would be better still to prevent crime from happening at all.

Last year the public prosecution office raked in some €136m proceeds from criminal activities. It may seem like quite a lot but it’s peanuts compared to the annual estimated criminal turnover of €20bn.

It still pays to break the law in this country. There are many tens of thousands of convictions a year, from weed plantations to human trafficking, but in only a fraction of cases is the money earned by criminal activities confiscated.

The public prosecution office thinks this should change and last month I was invited to brainstorm about ways to seize as much criminal money as possible in the next few years. My visit brought home to me how difficult it is to trace criminals, log what exactly they are earning and then actually confiscate it.

Benefits

Money streams suddenly go underground, proof vanishes, properties change ownership and criminals go free.

There are cases where convicted criminals who are known to have earned millions are now paying back the state a piffling couple of euros a month because they are on benefits. In the meantime, they are living the life of Reilly. It can’t be helped but it’s frustrating all the same.

My visit was a fruitful one and many of the solutions we arrived at involved public-private partnerships. I had a chat with Herman Bolhaar, chairman of the public prosecutor’s office.

Community service

We agreed prevention is better than cure and we thought it would be great if relatively minor criminals, who are now sentenced to doing community service, could be prevented from graduating to a life of serious crime. What can we do to make them choose a future in which they earn their money doing an honest job?

Bolhaar suggested community service with a twist for would-be serious criminals. Picking up bits of paper in the park where no one sees them is not exactly a punishment. ‘It would be much better to involve a big supermarket in the perpetrator’s own neighbourhood.’ If he does well his sense of self will soar and perhaps he will even be offered a real job at the end. It would be even better if he became interested in starting a business himself.

Let delinquents do their community service with a hardworking entrepreneur and give them a chance to contribute and do something creative. They may just become inspired and stimulated enough to earn an honest euro in the future.

Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and investor