TalTech says university fully cooperating with European Commission on audit ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Homepage of Taltech's Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance.
Homepage of Taltech's Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance. Source: ERR

The Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) said on Friday it is fully cooperating with the European Commission on an audit of the university's EU-financed projects.

The audit service of the European Commissions' department of research and innovation contacted TalTech on December 10, requesting the university to appoint a person whom the Commission could contact in relation to a possible audit of three projects financed from the Commission's Horizon 2020 program.

Depending on the results of the audit, the European Union may request funding for the projects to be repaid or reduced.

"No audits have been carried out so far in TalTech as part of the H2020 framework program. The contact person has to be appointed within ten days. If they are not appointed, the university will be represented by its standing authorized representative," TalTech said.

"The general goal of audits is to verify whether or not the use of the European Commission's support complies with the rules of financing and contract conditions. Audits by the provider of the financing are a common part of research project management. The specific purpose of each audit is established ahead of the launching of the audit. Until then, we'll be awaiting further instructions," TalTech said.

The European Commission officially informed TalTech on Thursday that it is about to carry out an audit of the projects financed by the European Union at the university's Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance, the projects to be audited also include OpenGovIntelligence (OGI), which has been extensively reported on by the media, Postimees reports.

Several junior scientists confirmed that OGI, an EU funded project, was used to pay the salaries of people who did not actually participate in the project, newspaper Postimees wrote in August this year. Timetables and workloads had also tampered with.

The prosecutor's office has launched a criminal investigation into the matter on the basis of the section of the Penal Code on benefit fraud.

TalTech then convened a committee of inquiry, which found some shortcomings in project management and said that some timetables lacked signatures but all in all deemed Postimees' claims of alleged fraud to be 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 Commission announced on Thursday it will audit three of the university's projects financed by the EU.

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 European 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 included in the audit is "The Once-Only Principle Project" (TOOP), which was supported with €8 million by the European Commission. 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 not known. 

TOOP is an international large-scale project led from Estonia. The person responsible for the project, Robert Krimmer, is a professor at the Nurkse Department, who was caught up in the scandal that erupted around the OGI project.

Support for OGI, also led by Krimmer, was close to €279,000.

The auditor will compile a preliminary report to which the university will be required to give its feedback within 30 days. The whole process will likely last for several months.

The Research Executive Agency of the European Commission has only carried out three audits in Estonia over the past five years. In two of these cases, a total of €192,000 had to be repaid.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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