Author: Prof. Maria Esther Muñiz Espada, professor of Civil Law at the University of Valladolid.
Samuel Bolis, Ph.D. in European Criminal Law, Lawyer, former Lt. Col. GdF
Committee: Eppo and agricultural and environmental frauds.
The Committee aims to address and combat, through the involvement of EPPO, fraud in the sector of the Common Agricultural Policy and environmental crimes. Fraud on the common agricultural policy represents one of the most significant components of the damage caused to EU budget expenditure. In fact, from 2016 to 2020, the P.A.C. has represented 11% of the fraudulent amounts reported to the Commission European, for an amount of over €220 million, while, second data released in May 2023, 231 of the 1,117 criminal proceedings currently opened by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office concern precisely the agricultural and rural development programs.The financial impact of fraudulent irregularities, although high in absolute terms, is however limited when compared to the total payments of the P.A.C., where fraudulent irregularities are equal to 0.09%. However, these data do not constitute a direct indicator of the level of fraud affecting the EU budget, which could therefore be much more relevant. It is therefore reasonable to believe that such a low percentage of irregularities is due to the presence of gaps in controls: according to the European Commission, in fact, the identification and reporting of suspected fraud can still be significantly improved, as can the subsequent investigations carried out. For example, it was noted that effective remedies have not yet been adopted to counter the risk of illegal land grabbing, which is the most widespread and longstanding method of unduly obtaining CAP contributions. The launch, which took place on 26 September 2023 by the Guardia di
Finanza with the involvement of EPPO, of a training center for national officials involved in the fight against fraud is therefore in the direction of disseminating best investigative practices: the data disseminated in that headquarters, attest how the Guardia di Finanza alone has conducted, starting from 1 June 2021, the date of entry into force of EPPO, over 450 criminal proceedings delegated by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office which led to the denunciation of 429 subjects, 103 of whom were arrested, for the ‘undue receipt or request for European contributions for over 72 million euros and VAT evasion for over 530 million euros. Furthermore, the investigations conducted by the national law enforcement authorities reveal that the
most significant frauds against the P.A.C. are carried out by mafiatype criminal associations. This is a phenomenon that dates back over time and was also revealed in a recent activity carried out by the Guardia di Finanza in which it was revealed that an association of this type would have perpetrated fraud to the detriment of the national and community budget, through undue requests for contributions for the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund in the sector of the Common Agricultural Policy (C.A.P.) and resorting to illegal land grabbing. Since mafia associations are usually also involved in further criminal conduct that affects the agricultural context, such as the illicit disposal of waste, it is appropriate to extend the investigation to environmental crimes as well; where committed by the same association, environmental crimes could be inextricably linked to agricultural fraud and therefore fall within the scope of EPPO’s competence. In any case, the proposed directive on the criminal protection of the environment encourages Member States to cooperate with EPPO to combat environmental crimes. Fraud P.A.C. and environmental crimes are economic crimes, i.e. they have in common the aim of obtaining large illicit profits; as the EPPO investigations demonstrate, the criminal associations must subsequently proceed to launder the aforementioned proceeds and then reintroduce them into the economic circuit. The final objective, therefore, is to examine how the EPPO can
combat money laundering activities deriving from the proceeds of crimes deriving from fraud on the expenditure of the EU budget and from environmental crimes (to those inseparably connected) and above all to strengthen the awareness within the EU of the importance of protecting the environment and the agricultural world, currently at the center of the EU’s global strategy for the European Green Deal.