Three months in, EU fraud busters tracing 300 cases
The European Union’s new fraud-fighting agency, which set up shop in Luxembourg in June, has opened 300 investigations estimated to have caused a collective €4.5 billion of damage to the European Union budget, the agency said in a press release on Tuesday.
The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), created to investigate crimes with EU funds, has received more than 1,700 reports of crime from the countries that take part in it since it set up shop three months ago.
The estimated damage as a result of the reports under investigation stands at almost €4.5 billion, the agency said. EPPO hopes to indict its first cases by the end of this year, spokeswoman Lidija Globakar said in an email.
Poland, Hungary, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden are the only EU countries outside EPPO, though Sweden plans on joining next year.
EPPO's 22 national prosecutors representing each of the participating EU countries work with teams in their home countries to investigate and try cases in national courts. Authorities recently searched premises in Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary as part of an EPPO investigation into a €14 million cross-border VAT fraud, Globakar said.
In July, EPPO said it was investigating a Croatian politician for taking bribes in return for steering a recycling centre contract that involved EU funds. The bribes involving the mayor of Nova Gradiška and three others are estimated to have cost the EU around €57,000 and the town about €12,000.
Last week, EPPO requested that the Guardia di Finanza of Genoa in Italy freeze more than €200,000 from a company that evaded border duty payments by declaring a false origin of imported goods. The company declared imported electrodes were produced in Thailand, instead of China, obtaining a 6% duty rather than the 63.5% envisaged for imports from China. The owner of the company is under investigation for smuggling and prosecutors will consider the threat to the economic and financial security of the European Union.
Recruitment at the Luxembourg-based agency got off to a slow start and EPPO could not start its work until at least one delegated prosecutor from each participating member had been appointed.