1st Oct 2023

Top EU prosecutor wants elite corps of specialised investigators

  • Laura Kovesi heads the EPPO. Judges have so far frozen €359.1m as a result of EPPO investigations (Photo: European Commission)
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Europe's top prosecutor Laura Kovesi wants to create an elite corps of highly-specialised financial fraud investigators.

The demand came in Kovesi's foreword to an annual report published by the European Public Prosector's Office (EPPO) on Wednesday (1 March).

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The EPPO is a Luxembourg-based force tasked to protect European taxpayers' money from criminals.

All EU states, with the exception of Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Poland, and Sweden, have signed up to it.

In her introduction to the report, Kovesi makes the case for an elite squad to take down criminal networks dealing with issues like VAT fraud, which costs EU public finances around €50bn annually.

"We need to combine our own capabilities at central level, in Luxembourg, with specialised and dedicated investigators in the participating member states," she said.

She said such officers would de facto constitute an elite corp of financial fraud investigators.

"I consider this an absolute necessity, if we are serious about fighting economic and financial crime," she said.

The EPPO launched in June 2021. As of the end of last year, it had over 1,100 active investigations, for an overall estimated damages of around €14bn.

Almost half of that is linked to VAT fraud.

The true figure is possibly higher given that the EPPO can only investigate VAT fraud involving damages above €10m. The sums are not insignificant.

Last November, it uncovered the biggest VAT carousel fraud ever investigated in the EU amounting to some €2.2bn. That investigation, dubbed Operation Admiral and which had started in Portugal, eventually spanned 14 EU states.

The crimes were also found in Hungary, Ireland, Sweden and Poland, as well as countries outside the EU.

Judges have so far frozen €359.1m as a result of EPPO investigations.

The EPPO is alerted of possible wrongdoing through different sources. This includes EU institutions, private parties, national authorities and ex officio.

The EU institutions based in Belgium fielded some 23 complaints — the most among the EU states.

Altogether, Belgium has 43 active investigations worth an estimated €1.2bn in damages.

At the top of the list is Italy. It has the both most active cases and the largest estimated worth of damages, at 285 cases and €3.2bn respectively.

But its national authorities are also issuing the most alerts to the EPPO. They sent 330 complaints.

Romanian national authorities also appear active. They issued 274 complaints and are now dealing with 124 active investigations with an estimated loss of €2bn.

A full summary of each EU state can be found here.


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