Italian ministry probed by EU fraud office OLAF

Italy leads Europe with 71 cases before special agency

(ANSA) - Brussels, April 29 - An unnamed government ministry is among the 71 Italian cases - the most in the European Union - investigated by an EU anti-fraud squad, its director said Tuesday.
    In its latest annual report, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) led by Italian Giovanni Kessler, reported that 71 cases were investigated involving agencies in Italy between 2006 and 2013.
    Among those is an Italian ministry which Kessler would not name but said the OLAF investigation should be completed by September.
    OLAF focuses on use and abuse of European Union funds by member state recipients.
    It operates in three main areas: independent administrative investigations; assisting and coordinating EU members in their efforts to combat fraud; and helping draw up anti-fraud policies for the European Commission, the EU executive. Although OLAF's judicial recommendations are not binding, its Italian cases led to 25 trials, 18 dismissals, with another 26 investigations still continuing, said the annual report.
    Kessler, a former magistrate in Trento, said the figures suggest that "in some regions and at a national level, there is insufficient attention to a careful and legitimate use of European (Union) funds," which can result in fraud.
    Too often, he added, the fraud cases at Italy's regional level involve the infiltration by the powerful 'Ndrangheta mafia, based in Calabria.
    While the most cases of fraud were found in Italy, Romania was very close behind, yielding 70 investigations between 2006 and 2013.
    In Belgium, 40 cases were reported, with Finland, Ireland, Latvia and Slovenia each with only one case in those years.
    Kessler said that although the OLAF workload has been rising, it continues to evaluate complaints within an average of 1.8 months before deciding whether to continue with an investigation.
    In 2013, a total of 253 investigations were opened, another 293 outstanding probes were resolved and 353 recommendations for judicial involvement were sent.
    That marked an 81% rise in cases compared with 2009.
   

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