Confiscated goods - The dark billions of crime in Europe

Confiscated goods - The dark billions of crime in Europe

Organisation: L'Espresso - (Italy)

Publication Date: 04/11/2016

Size of team/newsroom:small



The villa in Cote d’Azur had been confiscated in 2006, but eight years later its owner, a known offender, was still renting it out on Airbnb. The story of this real estate asset is just the tip of the iceberg of a phenomenon that embraces the whole of Europe. In 2014 goods worth more than two billion euros were taken away from the hands of criminal groups in Italy, Germany, Spain, France, England and Wales. It is an amount that rises to four billion euros if we include all EU countries: each with its own legislations and languages, while mafias and criminal groups speak only the language of dirty business, which help them create an annual wealth estimated at 110 billion euros. In autumn 2015 a team of journalists launched an investigation called “Confiscated Goods”, the european chapter of “Confiscati Bene”, a project of investigative journalism and civic monitoring advocating transparency on confiscated assets in Italy, which is promoted by, an Italian indipendent NGO of hacker activists and journalists that works for spreading ahead transparency and OpenData due to disseminating digital culture and data skills with off-line and on-line activities. Ondata brings skills both from journalism and coding to scale up its iniziatives and mission. The goal is to incentivize the creation of an European database of confiscated assets, which will allow a clear and timely answer to the questions of how many, where and which kinds of assets are taken away from criminals in Europe. The data currently available Europe-wide does not allow to paint a complete picture on the matter of confiscated goods. Aside from some national information, there is a lack of stats detailing the extent to which member states are able to recover illicit assets and cash. It is hard to estimate the true size of the criminal wealth that ends up in the control of the State. Therefore, our investigation focussed on five main European countries, each with its own peculiarities when it comes to confiscation and freezing of assets. Overall, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, England and Wales confiscated more than two billion euros worth of assets in the last year for which the data has been made available. The number derives from the analysis of stats produced by the Assets Recovery Offices (ARO) or by national Ministries of Interior and Justice. The total value of confiscations enforced across the whole of Europe amounts to four billion euros.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

The cross-border data project Confiscated Goods focused on five main European countries, each with its own peculiarities when it comes to confiscation and freezing of assets: Italy, France, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom. This is the first whole investigation on criminal investments seized by European countries. This data-driven investigation is innovative because it responds to five elements of multimedia journalism: Contest, conversation, content curation, community, collaboration. The sixth element is open data: we made a project website under an open license with all of your resources available as you’re going about each element. This will allow your readers to fact-check our findings, reuse them, and contribute to the overall project. The investigation “Confiscated goods in Europe” started with the aim of gathering, analyzing and visualizing available data on confiscated goods in EU member states. A look at the main institutional sources allowed us to claim that a database including data and stats on the number and value of confiscated goods does not yet exist. We made Freedom of information Act request to Ministry of Justice of United Kingdom and requests under the law of Transparency and Civic Access in Italy, Germany, France and Spain. "Confiscated goods" started in 2014 with a project of civic monitoring, transparency and open data of seized assets, first in Italy then in other european countries.

Technologies used for this project:

Data (and sto­ry) mining on offi­cial docu­ments and also on the web, for finding mat­ching results and sta­ti­stics with data scra­ped from the public agency of confiscated goods. Coding and geo issues: For sho­wing con­fi­sca­ted goods on a map, we nee­ded to develop a visua­li­za­tion tool. This was created by Alessio Cimarelli, using only open ­source tools (Leaflet, D3js, Open Streetmap Nominatim, and others). Data are sho­wn on the Italian and other countries' regions by abso­lute values and not nor­ma­li­zed by popu­la­tion or other dimen­sions, because we aimed to draft a kind of raw over­view: to show where the Mafia spent the money, and the dif­fe­rences bet­ween big cities and small towns. Content curation: We thought every con­fi­sca­tion should be told by every new­spa­per, as well. Starting from this idea, we aggre­ga­ted every story by region and from new­spa­per archi­ves, and from the most impor­tant bosses from whom goods were con­fi­sca­ted. Working this way (and after mat­ching results with quan­ti­ta­tive data) we could draw an over­view showing which invest crime organization like the Sicilian Mafia, the Camorra, the Ndrangheta, sho­wing a kind of distri­bu­tion by region. The review process: Working in a team is very hel­p­ful for poin­ting out mista­kes, but even better was sha­ring article drafts with other mem­bers of the pro­ject.
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