Wednesday

2nd Dec 2020

Hungary heads EU anti-fraud investigation list - again

  • OLAF said in 2019 it closed 181 cases, opened 223 new investigations, and recommended the recovery of €485m for the EU budget (Photo: European Commission)

Hungary leads the EU's anti-fraud agency's list of member states where irregularities have been found in EU funds between 2015 and 2019, the agency's annual report showed on Thursday.

The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) concluded 43 probes into misuse of funds where it found irregularities and recommended to the EU Commission to recover some 3.93 percent of payments made to Hungary under the bloc's structural and independent funds and agriculture funds.

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In all other member states the recommended rate of recovery of EU money is below one percent, while the EU average is 0.36 percent.

Hungary also led the list in last year's annual report with 3.84 percent.

The European parlaiment delegation of the Hungarian ruling party, Fidesz argued in a press statement that all the cases uncovered by OLAF between 2015-2019 culmulating in the 3.93 percent financial correction rate have taken place under previous socialist government and liberal leadership of Budapest.

Fidesz has been in power since 2010.

In Romania, OLAF concluded 40 probes where it found irregularities, in Italy and Poland it found 22 such cases.

In 2019, the agency closed nine investigations with recommendations in Romania, seven in Italy, five in Bulgaria, four in Poland.

Last year the OLAF concluded seven probes in Greece and in two it sent recommendations to national authorities, in Hungary it closed five cases and sent recommendations in two.

OLAF cannot prosecute inside member states - it can only make legal recommendations to national authorities and prosecutions if they find misuse of EU funds.

It is, however, up to the national authorities whether to investigate and prosecute the cases.

The report said that around 39 percent of the cases submitted by OLAF to national judicial authorities have led to indictments.

The indictment rate is 47 percent in Hungary, 46 percent in Romania, 44 percent Poland, and 62 percent in Italy.

OLAF also investigates EU institutions in case there is suspected wrongdoing.

According to the report, the commission took action in 13 cases, following the agency's disciplinary recommendations, out of a total of 27 cases.

In the European Parliament, 23 probes were conducted, with eight cases closed with some sort of action taken.

Most ongoing investigations are looking into possible fraud from the EU's structural funds - with 88 cases in 2019.

In 2019, the agency closed 181 cases, opened opened 223 new investigations, and issued 254 recommendations to the national and EU authorities.

OLAF recommended in total the recovery of €485m to the EU budget.

New trends

The agency's director-general Ville Itala warned that one growing trend has been "an increase in fraud involving EU funds for environmental or sustainability projects", as more EU money is being diverted to this policy area.

In one case cited in the report, an illegal dumping of biodiesel caused €62m in lost anti-dumping duties.

It also uncovered a fraud by a consortium of companies from Ireland, France, Spain and Romania who targeted EU money set aside for detecting forest fires - but instead had been used for a casino/hotel project.

Another trend identified by OLAF was fraudsters using the procurement and tendering process to gain access to EU funds for illegal purposes.

In one such cases two former staff members at "well-known non-governmental organisation" involved in supporting EU humanitarian aid efforts in Syria were found to be involved in corruption.

The two individuals "used to siphon taxpayers' money away from the humanitarian crisis in Syria and into their own pockets and those of their collaborators".

[The article was updated on 11.09.2020. with the press statement of the Hungarian ruling party's EU parliament delegation.]

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