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Limburg court drops €13 million solar panel fraud case

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A court in Limburg province has dropped a case involving fraudulent green energy certificates to a value of €13 million, citing staff shortages.

The case concerns green energy certificates handed out by the Flemish government as a form of subsidy for homeowners who installed solar panels. In 2010, when the system started, a certificate for 1,000 kilowatt-hours was worth €350 and could be redeemed by selling the certificate to energy regulator VREG.

Note: a similar system operated in the Brussels region and in Wallonia, with some differences. The prosecution concerned the Flemish system only.

The system was changed in 2015 so that new small installations no longer received certificates, but the fraud went on. That consisted of falsifying inspection reports, to make installations that no longer qualified for subsidy, look like they were older and therefore still eligible.

The fraud was rampant. Last year 232 cases came to light and were investigated, 26% up on 2019. Fraud was found in 80% of those cases; in 67% the money was paid back, to the tune of almost €5 million.

The Limburg case concerns three dossiers, worth a total of €13 million in money wrongly paid out. In a statement, the court in Tongeren said it warned justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD) in March of the staffing problem, but nothing was done.

The court is supposed to have 40 judges. Due to retirement and other departures, the number is down to 35.

Flemish justice minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) – who also happens to be energy minister – reacted angrily to the announcement.

In Flanders, we want to consistently fight fraud with green energy certificates in collaboration with [distributor] Fluvius, and have fraudsters convicted,” she said. “But this is really hallucinatory and promotes impunity. The fraudsters feel untouchable and the worst part is that the amount cannot be recovered. That means no less than 13 million euros, which Fluvius cannot just deduct from the electricity bill of households and small businesses.”

Van Quickenborne, meanwhile, promised the government would increase spending on the justice system to tackle the problem of under-staffing.