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Economic Offences

There are different types of criminal law in the Netherlands. Besides general criminal law (enshrined in the Dutch Criminal Code), there is economic criminal law (enshrined in the Dutch Economic Offences Act), which forms part of special criminal law.

Economic criminal law

Dutch economic criminal law addresses countless offences, which are qualified as minor or major based on the law’s own methodology. All these economic offences are listed in the Dutch Economic Offences Act (in Dutch: WED (link to page in Dutch). Examples of such offences are violation of customs procedures or environmental law, or non-compliance with the provisions of acts such as the Sanctions Act, the Financial Supervision Act and – perhaps most well-known – the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (Prevention) Act.

Economic offences are subject to both administrative and criminal sanctions. Administrative sanctions can be imposed by a number of supervisory authorities, such as the Dutch Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM), the Dutch Central Bank (DNB), the Netherlands Gaming Authority or the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). These bodies can decide to impose a fine or community service, although some supervisory authorities also have investigating officers. The Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (FIOD)), the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT), the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), the Labour Inspectorate and/or the Public Prosecution Service may choose to launch a criminal investigation. If the court’s economic offences division finds that the charges have been proved, it can impose a fine, community service or a prison sentence of several years. Major additional penalties may also be imposed, such as discontinuation of the business.

Low threshold of colourless intent 

Economic offences that have been committed intentionally (and certain designated economic offences ) qualify as a major offence and will generally be subject to criminal prosecution. The Economic Offences Act is rather different from general criminal law when it comes to the interpretation of intent. The Act requires a review of whether the intent qualifies as colourless intent (link to page in Dutch) rather than malice. Colourless intent refers to intent in terms of behaviour rather than intent in terms of breaking the rules. In other words, criminal liability under the Economic Offences Act does not require the accused to be aware of the criminality of their actions.

An example: the aim of Dutch AML/CTF legislation is to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing; as part of this, financial and specific other institutions are required to report unusual and/or suspicious transactions to the Dutch Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU-NL). Failure to report such transactions is an offence under the Economic Offences Act; it is irrelevant in this context effectively the institution knew that the AML/CTF legislation applied. This automatically precludes the defence that the institution did not know that it was subject to a certain ban or requirement (a reporting requirement) and that its actions were unintentional as a result. Because of this, the threshold for criminal liability under the Economic Offences Act is low.

Our services

Being charged with an economic offence can have major consequences. Because of the complexities of the Economic Offences Act and the underlying rules and regulations, which will easily lead to a major administrative or criminal sanction, the services of a specialist law firm are well worth considering. We have the expertise and are here to help.


[1] Article 2, paragraph 5 Economic Offences Act.
[2] Dutch Supreme Court, 18 March 1952, ECLI:NL:HR:1952:1 (in Dutch)..

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