The European Commission officially informed Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) on Thursday that it will be carrying out an audit of the projects financed by the European Union at the university's Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance. Projects to be audited also include OpenGovIntelligence (OGI), which has been extensively reported on by the media, daily Postimees reports.
Several junior researchers confirmed that OGI, an EU-funded project, was used to pay the salaries of people who did not actually participate in the project, Postimees wrote this August. Timetables and workloads had also been tampered with.
The Prosecutor's Office launched a criminal investigation into the matter on the basis of the section of the Penal Code addressing benefit fraud.
TalTech then convened an inquiry committee, which found some shortcomings in project management and said that some timetables lacked signatures, but overall deemed the paper's claims of alleged fraud unfounded.
The university also relayed a report on the department's finances to the European Commission. According to the information available to Postimees, TalTech is willing to admit an error in the management of altogether €17,000.
Despite the committee's findings, the European Commissioned announced on Thursday that it would audit in detail three of the university's EU-financed projects.
All of the projects to be audited by the Commission were managed by the Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance and funded from the Commission's Horizon 2020 program. A project by the name of Tropico, funding for which totaled €245,000, will also be included in the audit.
The most notable project of those to be audited is "The Once-Only Principle Project" (TOOP), support by the European Commission for which totaled €8 million. TalTech's share of the support for the international project amounted to €1.6 million. Whether or not partners in the project will also be audited is currently unknown.
TOOP is a large-scale international project led from Estonia. The individual responsible for the project, Robert Krimmer, is a professor at the Nurkse Department who was caught up in the scandal that erupted surrounding the OGI project.
Support for OGI, which was also led by Krimmer, totaled nearly €279,000.
Also involved in both OGI and TOOP is the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.
Audit process to take months
The university now has ten days to appoint a contact person to communicate with the European Commission, which will then investigate reporting in the projects and likely send one of its employees to conduct interviews in Estonia and review relevant documentation.
The auditor will then compile a preliminary report on which the university will be required to give feedback within a period of 30 days. The entire process will thus likely last several months, possibly even half a year or more.
As a result of the audit, the EU may request that funding for the projects be repaid or reduced.
The Research Executive Agency (REA) of the European Commission has only carried out three audits in Estonia over the past five years. In two of these three cases, a total of €192,000 had to be repaid.
Thus far, TalTech has not commented on the matter.
Asked by Postimees on Oct. 14 whether or not breaches may result in the European Commission effecting recovery, Renno Veinthal, the university's vice-rector for research, said that the possibility could not be ruled out, and that he would welcome the Commission's audit.
Editor: Aili Vahtla