Millions of euros of EU funds outside scope of EPPO
Investigating crime against the EU budget in countries outside the bloc will depend entirely on the co-operation of national prosecutors, the head of the union’s new fraud-fighting agency EPPO acknowledged on Tuesday.
The Luxembourg-based European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) officially launched its operations on Tuesday, with an estimated in-tray of 3,000 cases.
Most EU countries participating in EPPO have now appointed at least two delegated prosecutors to handle cases in their local court systems. Hungary, Poland, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland have so far opted out of EPPO, although Sweden is planning to join the agency next year.
The first new reports of alleged fraud against the EU budget – from Germany and Italy - had come in within hours of an online reporting system going live, Chief Prosecutor Laura Kövesi said at a press conference in the Kirchberg district, where many EU institutions are based.
However, Kövesi acknowledged that EPPO is powerless to pursue offences committed in non-EU countries such as Turkey – which receive hundreds of millions of euros in financial aid each year – unless the alleged fraud has a clear link back to one of the 22 EU countries participating in EPPO.
“We can look to see if there is a link with the member state… (but otherwise) it will depend on the national prosecutor and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). They will continue to be investigated by the national prosecutor,” Kövesi told The Luxembourg Times.
Most of the cases that EPPO will be looking at cover the use of “EU funds for different purposes (than the original intention), corruption, or money laundering," Kövesi said. She could not say how many cases related to Luxembourg.
The estimated value of fraud against the EU budget in 2019 alone was €500 million, European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders told the press conference, underlining the scale of the task facing the new agency.
EPPO's central office in Luxembourg will oversee the investigations of local prosecutors, Reynders added, and manage complex cross-border cases.
OLAF will continue to lead investigations in the five EU countries that have opted out of EPPO, but can ultimately only recommend prosecutions to national authorities. EPPO had assumed an “enormous responsibility... never attempted before,” Kövesi said, adding that its success would be “a measure of credibility for our union”.
The new agency was determined to carry on its work, despite a handful of countries such as Slovenia and Finland not yet having presented candidates for local prosecutors, the chief prosecutor said. “We have not been set up to allow others to…. consign cases to the shelf,” said Kövesi.