Investigations by OLAF, the EU’s anti-farud office, has resulted in the recovery of nearly €700 millionof misappropriated funds according to figures presented in its latest annual report.
Speaking at the lauch of OLAF’s annual report in Brussels, OLAF's Director General, Giovanni Kessler, expressed his satisfaction with the contents of the report.
"Thanks to our investigations, a considerable amount of money was recovered to EU taxpayers and a large number of criminals were brought to justice in national courts for crimes against the EU budget”, he said. “In this financial climate, the fight against fraud and corruption is of particular importance and should be a priority in all member states. OLAF wants to step up this fight. Therefore, we will increase our focus on the efficiency and results of our investigations and strengthen our cooperation with our partners both within and outside the EU."
The €691.4m recovered as a result of OLAF's cases, was admitted Kessler, an exceptional amount due to particular circumstances during the year. The highest recoveries were recorded in the structural funds sector (€524.7 million), followed by customs (€113.7 million) and agriculture (€34 million).
Another important achievement is that as a result of legal action in member states, following OLAF's recommendations, national courts sentenced fraudsters to a cumulative 511 years' imprisonment in 2011, and imposed financial penalties amounting to nearly €155 million.
OLAF handled 463 investigation and co-ordination cases in 2011. 122 of these cases related to EU staff, 89 to the agricultural sector, 67 to external aid, and 64 to structural funds. The clearance rate of cases (the ratio of cases opened and closed) improved, and fell below one. The average duration of cases increased slightly to 29.1 months. Both of these phenomena can be explained by the relatively large number of cases closed during the year.
Apart for the results of the report Kessler stressed the role that OLAF has as a “legislator”. Among the proposals OLAF has put forward, the one on harmonization of criminal law for the EU is the one at stake at the moment, Kessler explained to New Europe. “In few weeks the relevant European Commissioners, Reding and Semeta, are going to present the proposal which will be a directive and not a regulation which theoretical would have been possible after the new treaty”, he said.
“The most important issue is to have consistent criminal protection of these crimes all over Europe which in now not the case. We need all member states to have an almost identical criminal legislation in place to punish frauds, corruption, affecting the financial interests of the EU. For our observatory in OLAF, this kind of crimes are now more and more transnational and are very difficult to be detected at national level”.
“For us sometimes is also difficult to chose the member state where we have to send the recommendations because many countries are sometimes involved”, he says. “The result is that in some cases we see a negative conflict of competences, and in some other cases member states are dealing only with the part of action taking place in their country with the negative effect that you loose with part of the issue. In some other cases we see that criminals choose the member states where to pay the bribe according to the legislation. Harmonising the legislation will than prevent the criminals to choose the country with an inconsistent or not appropriate legislation and to potentially affect all Europe. Then we will have a common definition of conflict of interest, corruption and fraud affecting the financial interests of the EU. I think that this legislation will have to be approved as soon as possible also because the public opinion is suffering austerity measures and cuts.”