By Elizabeth Hearst for AMLi
The European Public Prosecutor’s Office, a body aimed at cracking down on financial fraud in the bloc, has today been launched.
The independent prosecution office of the European Union, will be tasked with investigating, prosecuting and the judgement of crimes against the EU budget. The Office will deal primarily with fraud, corruption and serious cross-border VAT fraud.
Prior to its inception, only EU National authorities had the power to investigate and prosecute fraud against the EU budget. Their powers were constrained however, by national borders and judicial systems.
In its launch video, the EPPO said it’s role was to “protect EU taxpayers money against criminals”, adding that “each year, criminals steal hundreds of millions of euro from the EU budget through fraud, corruption, money laundering and the misappropriation of EU funds”.
The EPPO maintains that such criminality is “spread across Europe”, however “until now national authorities only had the powers to prosecute within their borders”. The EPPO will be the first “supranational independent public prosecutor’s office”, and with these powers, the EPPO believe that this criminality “will change”.
Currently, there are 22 participating EU countries. Denmark, Ireland, Hungary, Poland and Sweden have so-far opted out. Based in Luxembourg, the central level comprises of the European Chief Prosecutor, Laura Codruța Kövesi and 22 European Prosecutors, from each Member State.
The body’s decentralised level consists of 140 European delegated Prosecutors, who are supervised by Permanent Chambers in Luxembourg.
Speaking about the launch, Chief Prosecutor, Laura Codruța Kövesi said they were “here to fight against financial fraud”, but added that it was “not an easy job”, owing to the fact there was “no precedent for a European Public Prosecutor’s Office”.
She admitted that it was “very difficult to apply 22 different criminal codes”, but added that the body has “the right spirit, the right focus, the right determination to make the EPPO an independent and strong institution”, which she believes will be “trusted by the citizens of Europe”.
Anyone can report a crime to the body, however it must “affect the financial interests of the EU”, and must involve the “abuse of misuse of the EU’s budget”, including the incoming revenue and outgoing expenditure “managed directly or indirectly by EU institutions, bodies, offices, or agencies”.
Chief Prosecutor Kövesi said that she was “very proud” to be involved, and to “build a new institution”, and hopes that “in a few years, the EPPO will become one of the most important European institutions.
In a joint statement European Commission Vice President Vera Jourová, European Commissioner Johannes Hahn and European Commissioner Didier Reynders welcomed the establishment.
“As of today, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) is up and running. This opens a new chapter in fighting cross-border crime”, it said.
The EPPO is the “first supranational prosecution service” which has launched its “operations to protect the EU taxpayer’s money” and added that the body is “competent to investigate and prosecute crimes like money laundering, corruption and cross-border VAT fraud”.
The statement described that in “2019 alone, Member States reported fraud affecting €460 Million of the EU budget”, which they believe had a “direct impact on people’s everyday lives” and inflicts “serious economic damage”.
“This has to stop, all the more so because COVID-19 has deeply challenged our economies and we need every euro for the recovery”.
The EPPO will “strengthen the protection of the budget of the EU”, according to the Commission. The statement continued: “This newly created EU body is fully independent”, adding that “Sweden has expressed its interest and is planning to join the EPPO in 2022”.
The Commission also encouraged the four remaining Member States to join as they maintain “crime knows no borders”, adding that “we need to fight it together”.
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