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EU urged to 'step up' fight against spending fraud

AFP  |  Luxembourg 

The must "step up its fight" against spending after falling short on prosecuting suspected fraudsters and recovering lost money, the bloc's spending said Thursday.

The European Commission, the EU's arm, lacks a full picture of the problem and takes too long to probe cases, the charged.

"There is a clear need for the Commission, in cooperation with the member states, to step up its fight against in EU spending," the Luxembourg-based ECA said.

It criticised a time-consuming approach that sees OLAF, the commission's anti-fraud office, launch probes that are often followed by criminal investigations by national authorities.

"Fewer than half of OLAF investigations have led to prosecutions of suspected fraudsters and resulted in recovery of less than a third of unduly paid EU money," the said.

The ECA said plans to set up the in 2020 are a positive step but voiced concern the EPPO cannot force the 22 participating countries to set aside resources to investigate cases.

It complained that the Commission has not updated its anti-fraud strategy since 2011 and lacked "comprehensive information on the scale, nature and causes of fraud." EU Gunther Oettinger, who has proposed a 1.3 trillion euro (USD 1.5 trillion) budget for the bloc for 2021-27, said "there is nothing really new" in the ECA report.

"Most areas of improvement have long been identified and tackled already, or we are about to," Oettinger added.

Oettinger said the EU has proposed giving OLAF more investigative power, such as access to bank account details like that enjoyed by national authorities.

In the 2010-17 period, OLAF said it concluded more than 1,800 investigations and recommended the recovery of more than 6.6 billion euros to the EU budget.

In a successful case, OLAF said, an investigation concluded in 2017 exposed the misappropriation of 1.4 million euros in EU research funds designed to build emergency response hovercraft prototypes.

It said Italian authorities are following up OLAF recommendations by investigating people allegedly involved in the embezzlement.

The ECA called, among other reforms, for establishing a "robust reporting system" with information on the scale, nature and causes of fraud.

It recommended designating one of the EU's commissioners with leading anti-fraud efforts and adopting "a new comprehensive strategy" based on risk analysis.

The body suggested reconsidering "OLAF's role and responsibilities" in light of the EPPO, including giving it a "strategic and oversight role".

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, January 10 2019. 22:25 IST