The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) presented its plans to strengthen the EU’s long-standing fight against corruption, just ahead of the new funding cycle for local development starting at the end of 2020.
The biggest development in the fight against corruption will be the creation of the new independent European Public Prosecutors Office (EPPO). EPPO will now be able to carry out criminal investigations and prosecutions, as an addition to OLAF’s strictly investigative and advisory functions.
In the future, EPPO’s European prosecutors will be able to cooperate with EU institutions and local governments in an attempt to tackle cross-border, large-scale corruption.
Their efforts will likely speed up the legal process. This is necessary because time delays can be a legal reason to drop anti-corruption cases in national courts.
The Chief Prosecutor of Romania, Crin Bologa, emphasised yesterday that the cross-border efforts of OLAF and EPPO are especially effective in protecting the financial interests of the EU.
“Last week, with the assistance of Belgian officials, we were able to bring to court a number of individuals for money laundering and tax evasion,” Bologa stated. The Romanian court ruled in favour of the prosecutors. “Their investigative support was very valuable.”
The Director-General of OLAF, Ville Itälä, urged that not only more effective prosecution but also a higher appreciation for OLAF’s operations is necessary to reduce corruption of the tax-based funds.
The prime reason for this, he said, is that “cases affecting the EU budget are not taken as seriously as the cases affecting national budget.” As a result, many legal cases are lost because they are not given priority in time.
“Some member states are very willing to work with us, but not everyone,” Vitälä told The Brussels Times. “What we see is that when it comes to corruption, really, prevention is so important.”
OLAF will be expanding its efforts to prevent corruption from taking place. “We want to enhance training people locally to recognise fraud across all levels. Training locally and gathering information, I think, will be the two main solutions here.”
For now, Vitälä believes that his revisions and the new prosecutors’ office should “significantly raise the success rate” in fighting corruption for the next six years.
The Brussels Times