EU corruption watchdog 'flooded' with cases

EU corruption watchdog 'flooded' with cases
EU corruption watchdog 'flooded' with cases

Brussels (AFP) - The EU's anti-graft watchdog said Wednesday it has been "flooded" with alleged fraud cases in the European Parliament and other bodies that have dragged in France's far-right National Front.

OLAF said cases in the European Parliament last year involved fictitious employment, the fraudulent declaration of allowances and misuse of funding to support the activities of national parties.

"Last year the unit dealing with internal cases has been flooded," OLAF director general Giovanni Kessler told a press conference in Brussels as he presented his annual report.

In 2016, he said out of a total 272 investigations concluded, 34 focused on EU employees or members and staff of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Investment Bank and the EU Court of Justice, the bloc's top court.

The watchdog, which has no power of its own to take punitive actions, made recommendations in 25 of those cases.

Kessler said his body is pursuing another 47 investigations this year, most of them linked to the European Parliament.

Kessler referred to the high-profile case of a parliamentary assistant working for the National Front (FN), headed by Marine Le Pen who lost to Emmanuel Macron in this year's race for the French presidency.

OLAF concluded that Le Pen, also a member of the European Parliament, had improperly used parliament funds to pay an assistant for a fake job and recommended the body recover more than 300,000 euros.

It also recommended disciplinary proceedings against the assistant.

The FN meanwhile has accused 19 French MEPs, including France's new European affairs minister Marielle de Sarnez, of having employed fake assistants.

In its annual report, OLAF said it detected an estimated 631 million euros ($705 million) in EU funds that were lost to an array of fraudulent claims in 2016, which is lower than the 888 million euros it said were bilked in 2015.

The total EU budget for last year amounted to 136 billion euros.

The losses also related to cigarette smuggling as well as fraud in public procurement projects, but did not include a case of Chinese imports to Britain that was only concluded this year.

OLAF accuses Britain of ignoring rampant use of fake invoices and customs claims by Chinese importers which cost 1.99 billion euros ($2.1 billion) in lost customs duties to the EU.