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Compliance News, EU/Europe

48 arrested in crackdown on mafia-backed scheme to defraud EU agricultural funds

By Dan Byrne for AMLi

ITALIAN AND EUROPEAN AUTHORITIES have launched a major operation against a pan-continent laundering scheme –worth over €16 million and with links to the Italian mafia.

Forty-eight have been arrested in Southern Italy by the Italian Carabinieri (domestic military police) with support from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Many have been charged with various crimes including money laundering, fraud, kidnapping and illegal detention of firearms.

The criminal group – known as Società Foggiana – robbed the EU of around €9.5 million through defrauding the bloc’s agricultural funds, OLAF said in a statement.

Purchases of farming machinery were set up to make use of those funds. However, the real prices of the items involved were overstated – leaving substantial cash remainders in the possession of the fraudsters.  

OLAF noted that both the sellers and buyers in these fraudulent transactions were involved in the scheme.  

Following the item-purchases, the group then funnelled their profits to fake companies in six other EU member states to cover their tracks. Those countries were Bulgaria, Czechia, Germany, Ireland, Portugal and Romania.

Speaking after the arrests, Director-general of OLAF Ville Itälä said, “I’m glad that excellent cooperation with the Italian authorities has led to a successful operation against a dangerous criminal group.”

“Unfortunately, organised crime can often be found hiding behind fraud schemes and money laundering. OLAF can provide real support in reconstructing links and following traces across borders,” he advised.

Action against the group was made possible because OLAF was able to access bank statements and follow cash movements matching the scale of those carried out by the fraudsters.

OLAF was also able to carry out no-warning checks on the machinery involved, and determine that their value did not match the prices recorded for purposes of EU funding.

Filippo Spiezia, vice president of Eurojust – the EU agency for criminal justice cooperation – has said that the case confirmed the “seriousness of the threat to the abuse of EU funds posed by organised crime.”

He stressed that it showed the need to work together across all EU institutions – echoing the calls by numerous European authorities and lawmakers that cross-border cooperation is vital for ensuring an effective fight against financial crime. 

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