Laudatio of Prof. Dr. Michael Levi for the European Criminology Award of the European Society of Criminology

Letizia Paoli

Letizia Paoli

Leuven Institute of Criminology



ESC awards

There are multiple reasons to explain why Michael Levi--or Mike, as we all know him--fully deserves the European Criminology Award of ESC.  Since 1980s he has been the criminologist –certainly in Europe but probably also worldwide-- who has most persistently and systematically investigated fraud, corruption and money laundering. These economic crimes—and in particular fraud--have presented a significant challenge to criminal justice and regulatory systems for centuries, but the advent of mass internet banking and shopping at the start of this century made them the most common type of crime for gain. Unlike drugs and other illicit markets, they have not attracted much crime control expenditure from governments, nor have they led to a massive expansion of the prison population anywhere in the world. Yet it is now acknowledged in the media and in the policy and practitioner spheres, as well as by many criminologists that this is an important area of criminal activity, generating huge economic and social costs, and raising questions of elite social impunity and legitimacy as well as insecurities about cybercrime in many parts of the world. 

Michael Levi has attempted to fill some major gaps in our knowledge and understanding of these phenomena and of the ways in which they are controlled–generating fresh data, producing innovative theorizing and rigorous empirical analyses, and offering much-needed policy guidance. His substantial oeuvre of books, articles and research studies has contributed significantly to both academic and policy development in a European and indeed global context, always focused on European evidence, but using American, Asian and Australian data for comparative insight (for a full list, see  

Among the most significant theoretical contributions he has made in a range of difficult fields, perhaps the greatest was to create in his 1972-5 doctoral research ‘routine activities theory’ avant la lettre. His thesis was then shortened and published as The Phantom Capitalists: the Organisation and Control of Long-Firm Fraud (Levi, 1981). His study related patterns of bankruptcy fraud to the business cycles and to both the standard and explicitly counter-fraud efforts of business credit controllers, from the mid-19th century onwards, relying on interviews with fraudsters, police, tax investigators and liquidators, as well as credit control agencies. Mike showed the dynamics of the ‘Arms Race’ between fraudsters and target victim companies/third party credit rating agencies. In particular, he revealed how many white-collar fraudsters could evade police actions, which were – and 50 years later still are –largely focused on ‘usual suspects’, i.e., those the police view as ‘organised criminals’. The book was republished in a revised and expanded second edition in 2008, which also received much praise (Levi, 2008a). 

His fifty-year long research on fraud also constitutes one of Mike’s most significative empirical contributions. In a string of articles, books and reports, he has described and explained the organisation and control of a range of frauds (from elite kleptocrat and corporate executive embezzlement to more banal, such as credit card fraud), including how the proceeds of crimes are handled and how frauds are informally and formally managed by potential victims (business and individuals) and by the criminal justice and state regulatory systems (e.g., Levi, 1981/2008a; Levi, 1987/2013; Levi et al., 2017).  

Another important contribution to the literature on fraud and broader white-collar crime research has been his work on (a) jury decision-making in complex fraud cases (Honess et al., 1998, 2004) and (b) sentencing and other sanctioning in white-collar crime cases. Some paradoxes explored in his past and ongoing work in this area (starting from Regulating Fraud, Levi, 1987 – republished in 2013) include the lack of service given by the police to businesses that suffer frauds, the lack of follow up to reported suspicions of money laundering, and the difficulties experienced by citizens and victims in finding individuals and corporations to hold accountable for social harms. Michael Levi argues that this is attributable less to public perceptions of economic crime seriousness than to police and political resistance to shifting their finite resources to new areas that require different skill sets and relationships.  

Michael Levi’s theoretical and empirical work has not been restricted to fraud. In areas that are often ideology and rhetoric-rich but evidence-light, he has enhanced their evidence base among others by:  

1. Scoping the extent and examining the pattern of the organisation of serious crimes for gain (for example drugs, fraud and money laundering), including the contribution of ICT (cyber) and of professionals such as lawyers and accountants to this process (e.g., Levi, 2008b, 2021; Levi and Soudijn, 2020; Middleton and Levi, 2004, 2015);  

2. Describing clearly and evaluating the impact of terrorist finance and money laundering controls and proceeds of crime confiscation on fraud, drugs trafficking environmental crimes and terrorism (e.g., Levi and Osofsky, 1995; Levi and Gilmore, 2002; van Duyne and Levi, 2005; Levi and Reuter, 2006; Levi, 2018a, 2018b, 2020; Levi et al., 2018); 

3. Assessing the costs of cybercrime in the UK and worldwide and the costs of organised crime in the EU (Anderson et al. 2019 and Levi et al. 2013); 

4. Analysing, explaining and critiquing the global trends in money laundering, its controls and the latter’s effectiveness (e.g., Halliday et al., 2014, 2020). A recent article of his on money laundering (Levi, 2020) won the best article prize from the Asian Criminology Society.  

More generally, Mike’s work is extensively cited and has received significant scholarly attention and praise. In 2013 he was given the Distinguished Scholar Award by the International Association for the Study of Organized Crime; in 2014 he was awarded the Sellin-Glueck prize by the American Society of Criminology; and in 2019, he received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the British Society of Criminology; the Gilbert Geis Lifetime Achievement Award, Division of White-Collar and Corporate Crime, ASC; and the Lifetime Achievement Award in the first (and highly competitive) Tackling Economic Crime Awards, based on his contributions to policing and fraud prevention. In 2020, he was granted the Anti-Corruption Excellence Award for academic research and education.  

Given his multi-faceted and unique expertise, it is no surprise that Michael Levi’s analytical skills have been sought by numerous governments and international organizations, including the UK Home Office, the Council of Europe, the European Commission & Parliament, Europol, the World Bank, World Economic Forum, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. His work on public-private partnerships in fraud and money laundering has helped to re-orient thinking in the UK, EU and internationally in the direction of deeper relationships between the State and the private sector, and to collaboration within the private sector, while noting the limits to information-sharing imposed by organisational rivalries and different national attitudes to data protection. He also helped shape the first Home Office Organised Crime Strategy, introducing an innovative and courageous focus on harm and, through that strategy, Europol’s initiatives on organized crime. Alas, that was before Brexit! 

While these are the serious, main reasons for granting Mike the ESC’s most prestigious award, there are two other less academic ones that I would nonetheless like to mention. The first of these reasons has very much to do with the qualifying adjective of our association. We are the European Society of Criminology. Testifying to such a spirit, Mike has not only sat twice on the Board of our Society, coordinated the organization of the 2017 ESC Conference at Cardiff and participated in almost all ESC Conferences. Over the years he has also made an impressive effort to learn a few words and make small talk in at least 10 European languages. Considering that Mike’s native language is English, the lingua franca of contemporary academia, this effort is even more remarkable—and worth a special appreciation, as it demonstrates his great humanity and kindness.  

Last but not least, I’d like to mention Mike’s fantastic irony and wit. It is a pleasure to listen to him or read his texts not only for the important topics he discusses, his analytical acumen and valuable findings but also for his frequent quips and more or less explicit jokes. To give you a better idea, I  would like to share my preferred quotes with you. I still remember that the first paper of Mike’s I read was entitled ‘Pecunia non olet: Cleansing the money-launderers from the Temple’ (Levi, 1991). This was one of the very first analyses on money laundering control worldwide and its title contained not just one but two jokes! 

For years I have been citing Mike’s presentation of organized crime as a ‘psychiatrist’s Rorschach blot’, ’whose attraction as well as its weakness is that one can read almost anything into it’ (Levi, 2002: 887). 

Most recently, my preferred quip has come from an article on the impact of fraud that Mike coauthored in 2008 with John Burrows. In such article Mike and his coauthor consider whether the costs of responses to crime should be included in the estimation of the costs of crime. They argue against it because otherwise ‘the less that is done about them, the lower are the “costs of crimes”’. Winking, in a footnote they go on: ‘This consideration prompts new questions—such as whether victimization surveys should be defined as a cost of crime’ and then crucially (for us all!) they ask: ‘indeed, should the production of this paper and the whole of the criminological estate be thus included?’ (Levi and Burrows, 2008: 294). 

Well, I hope that being labeled as a cost of crime does not weaken your enthusiasm in congratulating Mike for his outstanding work and for the important award bestowed on him! 


Anderson, R., Barton, C., Boehme, R., Clayton, R., Ganan, C., Grasso, T., Levi, M., et al. (2019). Measuring the Changing Cost of Cybercrime. The 18th Annual Workshop on the Economics of Information Security  

Halliday, T., Levi, M. and Reuter, P. (2014) Global Surveillance of Dirty Money: Assessing Assessments of Regimes To Control Money-Laundering and Combat the Financing of Terrorism, Chicago: American Bar Foundation. 

Halliday, T., Levi, M. and Reuter, P. (2020). ‘Why do transnational legal orders persist? The curious case of anti-money laundering’, in G. Shaffer and E. Aaronson (Eds.), Transnational legal ordering of criminal justice, Cambridge University Press. pp. 51-83.  

Honess, T.M. Charman, E.A., and Levi, M. (2003). Recall of emotional and factual pre-trial publicity: their relative influence on jurors’ reasoning and verdict in a simulated fraud, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33 (7), pp. 1404-1416. 

Honess, T.M.,  Levi, M. and Charman, E.A. (1998). Juror competence in processing complex information: implications from a simulation of the Maxwell trial, Criminal Law Review, November, pp.763-773. 

Levi, M., (1981). The Phantom capitalists: The organisation and control of long-firm fraud, London:  Heinemann.  

Levi, M., (1987). Regulating fraud: White-collar crime and the criminal process, London: Routledge. 

Levi, M., (2002). ‘The organisation of serious crimes’, in M. Maguire, R. Morgan and R. Reiner (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, pp.878-913. 

Levi, M., (2008a). The Phantom capitalists: the organisation and control of long-firm fraud, 2nd edition with new introduction/postscript on changes to fraud and its control, Andover: Ashgate.  

Levi, M., (2008b). ‘Organised fraud’: Unpacking research on networks and organisation’, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 8(4): 389-420.  

Levi, M., (2013). Regulating fraud (Routledge Revivals): White-collar crime and the criminal process, 2nd edition. London: Routledge.  

Levi, M., (2018a). ‘Reflections on Proceeds of Crime: A New Code for Confiscation?’, in J. Child and A. Duff (eds.), Criminal Law Reform Now, pp.1-24. Oxford: Hart Publishing.  

Levi, M., (2018b). ‘Green with Envy: Environmental Crimes and Black Money’, in Spapens, T., White, R., van Uhm, D, and Huisman, W. (eds.) Green Crimes and Dirty Money, London: Routledge. Ch.9.  

Levi, M., (2020).‘Evaluating the Control of Money Laundering and Its Underlying Offences: the Search for Meaningful Data’, Asian Journal of Criminology¸ 15(4) 301-20, DOI: 10.1007/s11417-020-09319-y. 

Levi, M. (2021). ‘Making sense of professional enablers’ involvement in laundering organized crime proceeds and of their regulation’, Trends in Organized Crime, 24: 96–110. DOI: 10.1007/s12117-020-09401-y. 

Levi, M. and Burrows, J. (2008). ‘Measuring the impact of fraud: a conceptual and empirical journey’, British Journal of Criminology, 8(3): 293-318.  

Levi, M., Doig, A., Gundur, R. Wall, D. and Williams, M. (2017). ‘Cyberfraud and the implications for effective risk-based responses: Themes from UK research’, Crime, Law & Social Change, 67(1): 77-96. 

Levi, M. and Gilmore, W. (2002). ‘Terrorist finance, money laundering and the rise and rise of mutual evaluation: a new paradigm for crime control?’ European Journal of Law Reform, 4(2), pp.337-364.  

Levi, M., Innes, M., Reuter, P. and Gundur, R. (2013). The Economic, financial & social impacts of organised crime in the EU. CRIM Committee, European Parliament,  

Levi, M. and Osofsky, L. (1995) Investigating, seizing, and confiscating the proceeds of crime, Crime Detection and Prevention Series Paper 61, London: Home Office. 

Levi, M. and Reuter, P. (2006) ‘Money laundering’, in M. Tonry (ed), Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, Vol.34: 289-375, Chicago: Chicago University Press.  

Levi, M., Reuter, P. and Halliday, T. (2018) ‘Can the AML/CTF System Be Evaluated Without Better Data?’ Crime, Law and Social Change, 69(2), 307-328.  

Levi, M. and Soudijn, M. (2020) ‘Understanding the laundering of organized crime money’. In P. Reuter and M. Tonry (eds) Organizing crime: Mafias, markets, and networks, Crime and Justice: an Annual Review of Research, 49, pp. 579-631. 

Middleton, D. and Levi, M. (2005). The role of solicitors in facilitating ‘organized crime’: Situational crime opportunities and their regulation, Crime, Law & Social Change 42 (2- 3): 123–161.  

Middleton, D. and Levi, M. (2015). ‘Let sleeping lawyers lie: Organised crime, lawyers and the regulation of legal services’, British Journal of Criminology. DOI: 10.1093/bjc/azv001 

van Duyne, P. and Levi, M. (2005) Drugs and Money: Managing the Drug Trade and Crime-Money in Europe, London: Routledge.