OLAF urges €3bn cash to be paid back
In 2017, the Office opened 215 investigations, concluded 197
Maria Koleva, Brussels
7 June, 2018The EU Structural funds remain at top of the investigative activity of OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office, shows its annual report for 2017, launched on 6 June in Brussels. Corruption, conflict of interest, and the manipulation of tender procedures continue to be encountered in fraud cases affecting these funds, with some instances where organised crime groups try to gain profit. The EU funds destined for research and for tackling refugee crisis have increasingly been eyed by fraudsters. Last year, OLAF opened 215 investigations after a process of analysing incoming information in 1111 selections. It concluded 197 investigations, issuing afterwards 309 recommendations to competent authorities at EU and national level. As a result of investigations concluded in 2017, the office recommended the recovery of over €3bn to the EU budget. Recovered funds will gradually return to the budget and be reattributed to projects that can stimulate growth and jobs. For this period was registered new reduction of the duration of the investigations to 17.6 months overall, while the selection duration corresponding to these cases remained at around 1.8 months. OLAF uncovered large scale fraud schemes thanks to unique ability to operate transnationally and quickly gather and exchange information, Nicholas Ilett, OLAF Acting Director-General, said during a news conference on the publishing of the report results. He added that the investigative performance in 2017 shows “that our work is essential in protecting EU taxpayers' money and ensuring that EU funds do not fuel fraud and corruption instead of financing projects that can bring real added value to citizens”. Mr Ilett also informed the media that very soon will be known the name of the new OLAF chief, and that he plans to step down from office. With Operation Bonifica, OLAF unveiled a large fraud with EU agriculture funds. Zooming in on embezzlement of research funding, the office finds that the academic and research fields are also prone to fraud, as attested by the significant number of fraud cases uncovered by the office in the past years. For example, the secondment of researchers has become a lucrative business for fraudsters, with individuals, research institutes, or companies pocketing EU money for academic or professional exchanges which never actually take place, or projects that never come to fruition. OLAF took part in 11 customs operations with different countries across Europe where counterfeit goods such as household, personal care products and smuggled cigarettes were seized.Concerning evasion of anti-dumping duties on solar panels from China, OLAF recommended a €228m recovery.