In 2021, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) recommended the recovery of more than half a million euros for the EU budget. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, OLAF continued to protect the EU budget by investigating increasingly versatile scammers and working on anti-fraud prevention to protect the billions of euros to be allocated by the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism. .
The 2021 report published today by OLAF reveals trends and developments in fraud in various sectors and includes anti-fraud investigations and operations, with a particular focus on the mechanisms of environmental fraud (from a never-ending afforestation project to sinking of a drinking gas pipeline). water), as well as important cases in the field of customs and waste traffic.
Commenting on the publication of OLAF’s annual report for 2021, OLAF Director-General Ville Itälä said: “OLAF again achieved very good research results last year. We have made our contribution to the protection of the EU’s financial interests by recommending the recovery of more than half a million euros lost in fraud and irregularities.
Prevention is the most effective tool we have and is at the heart of the work of OLAF and the EU institutions. In addition to its research, OLAF helped in 2021 to offer safeguards against fraud that could point to the mechanism of recovery and resilience, which will allow to invest more than 720 billion euros to ensure the ecological and digital transition of ‘Europe. Health and safety, as well as the environment, are increasingly collateral victims of fraud mechanisms. As the OLAF report points out, this issue is even more important given the increase in EU funding for the green transition.
The bad guys kept trying to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic: when all eyes were on the distribution of vaccines, we exposed the scammers who were trying to make false offers of vaccines worth more than 16 billion euros to the various national authorities.
2021 was also important for OLAF because we worked hard to prepare and send detailed information to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). This identification task is important for the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, which has opened at least 85 files as a result of the information provided by OLAF.
It has been an intense year for OLAF staff. I am proud of OLAF’s service to Europeans. “
OLAF research activities in 2021
- OLAF has concluded 212 investigationsissue 294 recommendations to the competent national and EU authorities.
- OLAF recommended recovery of 527.4 million euros in favor of the EU budget.
- started OLAF 234 new research after 1,110 communications received and analyzed by its experts.
Scammers have continued to use the pandemic to their advantage and have become even more sophisticated and versatile. With regard to fraud in EU spending, the most worrying phenomenon has been the infiltration of organized criminal groups through patterns of administrative irregularities such as double funding, conflict of interest, manipulation of bids and other means.
OLAF continued to investigate cases of professional irregularities and non-compliance by members and staff of EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, thus helping to promote the highest standards of public service in the EU.
As for revenue fraud, scammers have worked to avoid the growing difficulties of moving large quantities of goods by dividing shipments into smaller batches. Underestimation and fraud related to the origin of goods are hidden behind complex mailbox business systems established in different countries, even outside the EU. New mechanisms of fraud related to COVID-19, the green transition and waste management have emerged.
Fraud affecting green and digital projects
At least 37% of European recovery funds will be used to facilitate the EU’s green transition. In 2021, OLAF research has identified cases showing that scammers have also targeted “green” projects and funding for digitization, another pillar of NextGenerationEU. These cases and models feed into future OLAF analyzes and investigations, which will help protect the funds of the EU Recovery and Resilience Mechanism. Examples of the OLAF 2021 report include cases of fraud involving the funding of new software projects, alternatives to more environmentally friendly pesticides, forests and aircraft. Cross-border smuggling can also negatively affect Europe’s ecological ambitions: as reported in the report, OLAF has actively addressed the trafficking of waste, smuggling of refrigerant gases and illicit pesticides.
Prevent fraud and protect European funds for recovery
Preventing the loss of revenue and fraud with European funds is the most effective way to ensure that every euro is well invested. Over the last year, OLAF has also continued to focus on prevention. One of the cases presented in OLAF’s 2021 report shows that the Office’s investigators discovered the possible misuse of more than 330 million euros and recommended that it be stopped before it could materialize. In 2021, OLAF anti-fraud experts also addressed European recovery funds. An OLAF working group examined the national recovery and resilience plans of the 27 EU member states to ensure that they contained the appropriate measures to prevent fraud. The results of OLAF’s analysis were passed on directly to the European Commission’s colleagues in charge of approving the various national plans.
False offers of vaccine against COVID-19
In February 2021, OLAF issued a public alert against possible vaccine-related scams against COVID-19. OLAF had received information from government sources in EU member states about offers from alleged intermediaries proposing the purchase of large quantities of vaccines, most of the type authorized for use in the EU. The purpose of the fraud, as OLAF found, was to persuade the public authorities to pay large advances to secure the sale and then disappear with the money. The total of these various scam attempts amounts to about 1.2 billion doses of the vaccine, with a total asking price of more than 16.4 billion euros. OLAF’s intervention made it possible to expose these false offers, avoiding major losses to public finances and protecting the vaccine distribution process.
Tobacco products are an important part of the smuggled or counterfeit goods that are the subject of OLAF’s operations every year. 2021 was no exception: OLAF and its partners kept a total of 437 million illicit cigarettes out of the European market. This figure includes 93 million smuggled cigarettes in the EU, 253 million cigarettes confiscated outside Europe and 91 million illegally manufactured cigarettes at various manufacturing sites in EU countries. OLAF also helped national authorities confiscate a total of 372 tonnes of raw tobacco. According to OLAF estimates, these activities have saved the EU Member States from losing € 90 million in lost revenue.
For the full version of the report click here.