The Malta Independent 23 May 2018, Wednesday

Malta opts out of EU public prosecutor's office which looks into EU budget corruption and fraud

Saturday, 10 June 2017, 10:40 Last update: about 13 months ago

Malta has opted out of the European Public Prosecutor's Office, which will be equipped with the power to investigate and prosecute criminal cases affecting the EU budget, such as corruption or fraud with EU funds, or cross-border VAT fraud.

The Office will be a strong, independent and efficient body specialised in fighting financial crime across the EU.

The Justice Council, on 8 June, saw 20 Member States reach a political agreement on the establishment of the new European Public Prosecutor's Office under enhanced cooperation.

The 20 EU states are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Slovenia.

While at this stage, not all Member States wish to participate in the European Public Prosecutor's Office, these non-participating states may join at any time after the adoption of the Regulation.

Following the Justice Council agreement, the European Parliament will now have to give its consent.

Commissioner Günther H. Oettinger , in charge of Budget and Human Resources, said: "We have zero tolerance for fraud against the EU budget. Every cent of it needs to be spent for the benefit of EU citizens. With a strong, independent and efficient European Public Prosecutor we are strengthening our efforts in protecting taxpayers' money by ensuring a European approach to the criminal investigation and prosecution of criminal offences affecting the Union budget. This will be a substantial addition to the current means at Union level, namely the work of OLAF in the area of administrative investigations."

Commissioner Věra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said: "We have worked hard to bring as many member states as possible on board and I am very glad that we now have 20 founding members of the European Public Prosecutor. This is a big success and it ensures that the European Public Prosecutor's Office will be efficient from day one. This is a good day for the European tax payer. The European Public Prosecutor's Office will complement the important work of Eurojust, the EU criminal justice agency, allowing it to dedicate more resources to the fight against terrorism, human trafficking or other crimes."

According to a European Commission press release, every year at least €50 billion of revenues from VAT are lost for national budgets all over Europe through cross-border fraud. "Transnational organised crime is making billions in profit every year by circumventing national rules and escaping criminal prosecution. Outside the area of VAT, in 2015 the Member States detected and reported to the Commission fraudulent irregularities for an amount of around €638 million. National prosecutors' tools to fight large-scale cross-border financial crime are limited. The new EU prosecutor will conduct swift investigations across Europe and real-time information exchange. This will be a game-changer.

The European Public Prosecutor's Office will operate as a single office across all participating member states. It will be a highly specialised and independent office, set up outside the existing EU institutions and services. The European Public Prosecutor's Office will act in the interest of the EU and will not seek nor take instructions from EU institutions or national authorities.

The European Public Prosecutor will be organised with a central office at EU level and a decentralised level consisting of European Delegated Prosecutors located in the member states, who will also continue their function as national prosecutors ("double hat"). The central level will supervise the investigations and prosecutions carried out at national level, to ensure effective coordination and a uniform approach throughout the EU.

While the European Public Prosecutor's Office will be responsible for criminal investigations, OLAF will continue its administrative investigations into irregularities and fraud affecting the Union's financial interests in all Member States of the Union.




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