In Europe, fraudsters are increasingly targeting EU funds earmarked for environmental and sustainable projects. This came at a time when the European Commission planned to allocate one trillion euros of green investments over the coming years. They are mainly investment activities that focus on companies or projects committed to preserving natural resources, production, and discovery of alternative energy sources and implementation of clean air and water projects,
In its latest report released on Thursday, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) said it had completed 181 investigations in 2019, opened 223 new investigations into fraud involving EU funds, and recommended the recovery of 485 million euros that were disbursed from the EU budget.
The European Anti-Fraud Office is a body mandated by the European Union to protect the financial interests of the Union. It was founded on April 28, 1999, by European Commission Resolution 1999/352. It has three tasks:
Fight against fraud affecting the European Union budget
Corruption investigation by the staff of European Union institutions
Establishing anti-fraud legislation and policies.
Among the investigations carried out by the office, operations related to cross-border fraud schemes targeting humanitarian aid as well as European Union funds related to the environment, agriculture, and regional development.
The Director-General of the European Anti-Fraud Office, Phil Itala, said we have observed an increasing trend over the past few years regarding fraud targeting EU funds for environmental and sustainable projects. The European Anti-Fraud Office aspires to uncover the sources of fraud, as the embezzlers are aiming for the 2021-2027 budget with 1.8 trillion euros designed to boost Europe’s recovery from the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The investigations conducted by the European Anti-Fraud Office, which included funds earmarked in the fields of environment and sustainable development, focused on cases of review of misappropriation of EU funds for green products as well as counterfeiting and smuggling of products that could harm the environment and health.
The European Union Commission has placed a proposed new green package at the heart of the European Union’s 2021-2028 budget to make its economy more sustainable, to become the world’s first carbon-free zone by 2050. To fund the Green Deal, the European Union plans to pump out a trillion euros of public and private investment.
Another major trend set by the Financial Crime Office during the year was the fraudulent use of the procurement and bidding process to access EU funds for illegal purposes. One of these cases concerns a “well-known non-governmental organization” involved in supporting the European Union’s humanitarian aid efforts in Syria.
The NGO has received 19 million euros in EU funds over the past four years through four separate grants, but the Anti-Corruption Bureau has found evidence of embezzlement cases by former employees who have carried out a “sophisticated fraud” to steal money and distribute it with those who collaborate with them.
The European Anti-Fraud Office recommended a refund of 1.5 million euros.
It was also found that three Polish companies had defrauded the European Union’s Fund for Food, Agriculture, and Rural Development by falsifying and inflating invoices and manipulating bidding procedures. The European Anti-Fraud Office has recommended recovery of more than 1.1 million euros from a budget funded by the European Union.