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11th Aug 2022

EU prosecutor: Malta doesn't know who's fighting EU fraud

  • Malta has no open cases against EU fraud or corruption, posing questions on whether there is a real drive to tackle the crimes (Photo: Berit Watkin)
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The head of the EU's financial crime watchdog, Laura Codruţa Kövesi says Malta is paying lip service in its efforts to crack down on EU fraud and corruption.

Speaking to European lawmakers on Wednesday (20 April), Kövesi said national authorities on the island-nation were unable to respond to simple questions.

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"I visited Malta. I had meetings with the national authorities and after two days it was very difficult for me to identify the institution that is responsible for detecting crimes," she said.

"All of them said that 'it's not me. It's them.' And when I visited them, they said 'it's not us'," she said.

Kövesi heads the Luxembourg-based European Public Prosecutor's Office. The office is tasked to crack down on VAT fraud and other financial crimes dealing with EU money.

Launched last June, it has so far seized some €147 million in assets, made arrests, and currently has 515 active investigations totalling an estimated €5.4 billion in damages.

Aside from Ireland, Hungary, Poland and Sweden, every EU state has signed up to the Luxembourg-based office to help fight the crimes. Denmark has a special opt-out.

But Malta stands apart because it is the only participating member that has not opened any investigation.

Luxembourg also has only one, posing questions on the quality and drive of national authorities to alert Kövesi's office of possible crimes.

"You cannot find it if you don't search, especially revenue fraud," said Kövesi.

This stands in contrast to the 576 total cases opened across all other participating member states, including 120 in Italy alone.

She is now demanding a revision of the rules that underpin the European Public Prosecutor's Office.

She says the rule changes are needed to guarantee the independence of her delegated prosecutors stationed in the respective member states.

The rules also need to be tweaked to simplify investigations in order to better tackle cross border probes, she said.

While her office is deemed competent to tackle tobacco smuggling, for instance, in one member state, it is not in another.

"It undermines our capacity to fight in particular the more serious criminal groups," she said.

Poland

Poland also stands out. With 23 cases, it has the most anti-fraud investigations among the member states that refuse to sign up to the Kovesi's office.

"Unfortunately, with Poland we have the highest number of the cases that are involved the non participating member states," she said.

Kövesi says they signed a working arrangement with Hungary and are soon hoping for similar agreements with Denmark and Ireland.

But Poland flat out refuses, she said, due to national legislation.

'There are no clean countries', EU chief prosecutor says

"For the first time, the offenses against the financial interest of the EU will be investigated in an integrated strategic manner by a prosecutorial body with supranational jurisdiction," EU chief prosecutor Laura Kövesi said.

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