EPPO targets fraud case against Croatian politician
The European Union's corruption-fighting force said on Friday it is investigating a Croatian politician for taking bribes in return for steering a recycling centre contract that involved EU funds, the first criminal investigation the Luxembourg-based agency has disclosed.
The Croatian contract worth about €562,000 was co-financed by the EU Cohesion Fund, which aims to upgrade the infrastructure of poorer states in southern and eastern Europe. The potential theft of some of that money meant evidence developed within Croatia so far landed in the lap of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Luxembourg, which was established to fight corruption that steals EU taxpayers' money.
The bribes and other abuses involving the mayor of the Croatian town of Nova Gradiška and three others are estimated to have cost the EU around €57,000 and the town about €12,000, EPPO said.
The criminal investigation is the first that EPPO has been able to announce since it started work 1 June, spokeswoman Tine Hollevoet told Luxembourg Times. EPPO staff have examined more than 1,000 cases since last month, with some leading to the start of investigations while others were set aside, the agency said on Friday.
The announcement comes after a parliamentary commission in Croatia last week complied with EPPO's request and stripped fellow member and Nova Gradiška Mayor Vinko Grgić of immunity from prosecution, according to the pan-European media network Euractiv.
"Lifting immunity at this stage of the procedure is exclusively aimed at obtaining the approval to initiate a criminal investigation, in full respect of the principle of the presumption of innocence", EPPO said in a statement on Friday.