The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) Wednesday announced that it concluded 197 investigations, issuing 309 recommendations to the relevant national and EU authorities.
According to the OLAF 2017 report released at a press conference, it recommended the recovery of over three billion euro (USD 3.5 billion) to the EU budget. OLAF opened 215 new investigations, following 1,111 preliminary analyses carried out by OLAF experts.
Speaking at the news conference, the Office’s Acting Director-General, Nicholas Ilett, said that “our investigative performance in 2017 shows that our work is essential in protecting EU taxpayers’ money and ensuring that EU funds do not fuel fraud and corruption instead of financing projects that can bring real added-value to citizens.” The 56-page report notes that infringements related to the trade in counterfeit products increased in recent years, generating vast illicit profits for fraudsters while causing huge losses of tax revenues for the EU.
It also revealed that China was the top producer of counterfeit goods, with India, Thailand, Malaysia, Pakistan, Vietnam and Turkey identified as important producers in distinct sectors. In terms of modus operandi, fake goods were found to arrive in large quantities in containers, which would be then sent further in small parcels by post or courier services.
Albania, Egypt, Morocco and Ukraine were the four transit points employed for redistributing counterfeit products into the EU.
OLAF has a unique investigative mandate to fight tobacco smuggling into the EU which causes huge revenue losses to the budgets of the EU and of the Member States. OLAF has been paying particular attention to vessels loaded with significant quantities of cigarettes in the port of Bar in Montenegro, which were destined mainly for Libya, Egypt, Lebanon and Cyprus. Many times, these vessels were found to arrive at their destination empty, with the cigarettes most likely diverted into the EU contraband market.
Humanitarian funding from the EU is frequently channelled through international organisations and through NonGovernmental Organisations, it says.
“Unfortunately, as attested by several OLAF investigations, those funds have also attracted the interest of persons and groups who are able to exploit humanitarian aid and defraud funds. This is largely due to projects being developed in difficult operating environments, with limited state authority and high corruption risks,” says the report.
In the course of 2017, OLAF concluded nine investigations into the irregular import of solar panels from China into the EU, where most of the products were customs-cleared in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.
Source: Kuwait News Agency