Author: Iman Khodri, member of the “Investigations and Activities Committee” and Chair of the “Create Committee”.
Committee: Investigations and Activities Committee
The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (hereinafter as EPPO) communications office on November 3rd issued an article titled “Italy: 56 people and two companies indicted for criminal association aimed at systemic agricultural funding fraud and corruption” on the investigations relating to the case that was discovered in June 2022 by the Italian Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza) in Palermo.
What was discovered was “evidence of a web of organized criminal activities involving high-level public officials and industry professionals, that gave rise to serious suspicions of the existence of an organized criminal group, capable of steering decisions in order to allow private companies operating in the surroundings of Palermo to receive agricultural funding from EU and national sources, within the context of the EU’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)”, with the investigations resulting in “over 20 unlawfully granted funding applications, and two instances of alleged corruption involving public officials and private entrepreneurs. In addition, a range of offenses against public order such as criminal association and against public administration, including abuse of office, disclosure of official secrets, material/ideological forgery in public documents, suppression, concealment, and destruction of public records, are alleged to have been committed by the public officials of the IPA in Palermo and the other members of the group in various role”, the article states.
But how does an investigation start, based on the EPPO Regulation and applicable EPPO guidelines, in particular primarily decision of the EPPO College from 21 April 2021 “Adopting operational guidelines on investigation, evocation policy and referral of cases, amended by decision 026/2022 of 29 June 2022 of the college of the EPPO”? And how is a criminal conduct reported to the EPPO?
The primary method is through a designated channel outlined in Article 24 of the EPPO regulation on written procedure. Various authorities, including institutions, bodies, offices, agencies of the Union, and Member State authorities, utilize this channel to send reports directly and exclusively to the EPPO. This approach is designed to prevent complications such as overlapping investigations and to ensure a seamless exchange of information.
However, reporting to the EPPO is not limited to this channel alone. Individuals, whether EU citizens or non-EU citizens, and both private individuals and legal entities, can also report a crime to the EPPO. This is applicable when there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a criminal offense affecting the EU’s financial interests has occurred. Reports can be submitted in any of the official languages of the EU via the ‘Report a Crime’ web form to the EPPO’s headquarters in Luxembourg.1
It’s important to note that online crime reports cannot be submitted anonymously. If permitted by national rules, individuals may choose to report directly to the European Delegated Prosecutor in their respective countries.
Article 24 furthermore sets up a specific way for authorities to directly and exclusively communicate criminal reports to the EPPO. This approach helps avoid problems with national judicial authorities and stops parallel investigations. The goal is to protect the EPPO’s investigative powers and maintain efficient information exchange.
Using the exclusive reporting line stops potential overlapping of responsibilities between the EPPO and national prosecution authorities. This way, reports are sent only to the EPPO, reducing the risk of parallel investigations and keeping the information flow effective.
Even with the exclusive reporting channel, national authorities still have the right to get information once the EPPO decides to start a case. Articles 25 and 26 of the EPPO regulation on written procedure emphasize that the EPPO must share the steps that are being made with national authorities.
For instance, according to article 25 point 3 of the EPPO regulation, “the EPPO shall refrain from exercising its competence in respect of any offence falling within the scope of Article 22 and shall, upon consultation with the competent national authorities, refer the case without undue delay to the latter in accordance with Article 34 if:
(a) the maximum sanction provided for by national law for an offence falling within the scope of Article 22(1) is equal to or less severe than the maximum sanction for an inextricably linked offence as referred to in Article 22(3) unless the latter offence has been instrumental to commit the offence falling within the scope of Article 22(1); or
(b) there is a reason to assume that the damage caused or likely to be caused to the Union’s financial interests by an offence as referred to in Article 22 does not exceed the damage caused, or likely to be caused to another victim”
Then again at point 4: “The EPPO may, with the consent of the competent national authorities, exercise its competence for offences referred to in Article 22 in cases which would otherwise be excluded due to application of paragraph 3(b) of this Article if it appears that the EPPO is better placed to investigate or prosecute.”
Point 5 of art 25 and point 7 of art 26 are similar in the roams of the information shared about the excerpt or not of its competence according to art 22 on “Territorial and personal competence of the EPPO”.
- “The EPPO shall inform the competent national authorities without undue delay of any decision to exercise or to refrain from exercising its competence.”
- “The EPPO shall inform the competent national authorities without undue delay of any decision to initiate an investigation.”
At the moment there’s no further information about the case, except that the allegations, supported by the decisions of the Palermo Court of Review, have been accepted by the Judge of the Preliminary Hearing in Termini Imerese, where the trial is scheduled to commence before the Collegiate Court of Termini Imerese on February 7th, 2024.