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25th Oct 2021

EU chief prosecutor accuses Slovenia of interference

  • 'This sets a very dangerous precedent', the European Union’s chief prosecutor Laura Kövesi told lawmakers (Photo: European Commission)
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Europe's chief prosecutor Laura Kövesi has warned that the EU budget might not be safe because Slovenia is interfering with the proper functioning of her office.

She made the remarks on Friday (October 1) at parliamentary budget hearings.

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The new European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) only started operations in June. Its aim is to investigate and prosecute cross-border financial crimes (bribery, money-laundering, tax fraud) committed with European taxpayer money throughout the EU.

The agency is located in Luxembourg, but relies on a network of delegated prosecutors sourced from each member state to lead and prosecute cases on the ground.

Slovenia is the only member state that has not yet named prosecutors.

"Slovenia, a member state of the EU, is interfering with the function of an EU judicial body. This sets a very dangerous precedent," Kövesi told MEPs and a commission representative.

She said the EPPO is a systemic part of EU architecture to protect taxpayers money against financial crime. Since its creation, the agency has already opened 350 investigations, representing damages worth up to a possible €4.6bn of the EU budget.

"Slovenia's failure to appoint a prosecutor has left a prosecution gap in the EPPO zone."

And Kövesi told lawmakers that crimes committed in other member states that lead back to Slovenia cannot be prosecuted either.

"We have to work as if our office does not exist in Slovenia," she said.

"How can Slovenia ensure proper and complete supervision of Union funds? How can Slovenia guarantee effective judicial follow-up of all the detected fraudulent irregularities? Is the EU budget properly protected?"

Slovenia currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

During her visit to Ljubljana in July, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said Slovenia must deliver and cooperate with the EPPO. "I count on the prime minister to submit names of candidates to the EPPO with utmost urgency."

Ljubljana finalised procedures in December. A government official told EUobserver in May "it had already found premises for the office." But then Slovenia's prime minister Janez Janša annulled the selections proposed by the country's prosecution.

In July, he told reporters he expects the new selection procedure is to be completed this autumn. The Slovenian ministry of justice is supposed to send names to the EPPO for approval, but candidates are still forthcoming.

The Slovenian minister of justice was invited to the parliamentary hearing on Friday but declined to attend.

Kövesi also told lawmakers that the current budget is inadequate for the agency to do its job properly.

EUobserver recently reported that the commission blocked the EPPO from using their budget to hire the specialised personnel they need.

The parliament and the European Council upped the agency's budget by a further €7.3m in December 2020 to recruit financial analysts and IT experts.

But the commission has not allowed EPPO to spend that money.

When repeatedly asked for an explanation by the budget chair Monika Hohlmeier, human relations commissioner John Urell declared that this is to keep medium and long term costs under control.

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Slovenia was supposed to nominate a delegated prosecutor for the new European Public Prosecutor Office, in charge of cracking down on corruption of EU funds. Ljubljana finalised procedures in December but has yet to send nominations, causing headaches.

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Slovenia formally assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council on Thursday (1 July) - amid criticism against its right-wing prime minister Janez Janša for allegadly undermining the rule of law and democratic values in the EU.

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