The European Union's first ever Chief Prosecutor, Laura Codruța Kövesi, was in Estonia Monday and outlined the work the organization she heads, the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO), noting that while the misuse of European Union grants is a major issue, the lion's share of the office's work involves detecting cross-border VAT fraud, which is rife and which encompasses virtually all 27 member states.
Laura Kövesi told ETV foreign affairs show "Välisilm" Monday evening that: "Each year, Europe loses €60 billion due to VAT fraud. The EPPO is the best tool, in the best position, to detect cross-border crime, including such kinds of VAT fraud."
"In one case, the criminal activity was committed in 22 member states, practically all the member states. There were than 4,000 companies involved in the case, there very well-linkg organized groups operating. We are investigating such cases," Kövesi told "Välisilm".
Kövesi's role involves overseeing financial crimes in member states, particularly with regard to the misuse of EU funds, at least those 22 member states, including Estonia, who have signed up to the EPPO.
EU funds get misused in respect of agricultural subsidies, as well as in infrastructure and construction, and in the healthcare system, though overall, in comparison with VAT fraud, the misuse of grants and subsidies is comparatively small, AK reported.
This means the bulk of the EPPO's work concerns investigating cross-border VAT fraud schemes
Two countries who have not signed up to the EPPO, though since the issues relate tot he European Commission and EU institutions, the EPPO has to investigate cases even in relation to these countries, and is in contact with them when need be, Kövesi said.
While some countries have many cases ongoing – in Bulgaria at present, there are 100, Kövesi said, this does not mean that one country is more corrupt than another.
"There is no such country where there is no corruption or a country that is clean of any type of crime," she said, adding that there are differences in terms of resources to combat crime, the manner in which investigations are carried out, the point at which crimes are reported, legal systems, convictions etc., which all vary from member state to member state.
Kövesi, 48, is a former prosecutor general in her native Romania, and was backed by the president, Klaus Iohannis, when the Romanian justice minister called for her removal, "Välisilm" reported.
In any case she faced opposition, calls for her removal, even threats of violence to be carried out against her and her family by those paid to do so.
"However, we are prosecutors, we have to take such a risk and live on," she added.
Kövesi told "Välisilm" she was neither pessimistic nor overly optimistic about the future, but believes that the organization simply has to do its job, although in the process the most suitable ways of working will also fall into place in due course
Set up last year under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty and retaining its English-language name, the EPPO is headquartered in Luxembourg. Delegated prosecutors from the 22 states signed up to the EPPO are independent of the prosecutor's office in their home country.
Estonia's representative is Kristel Siitam-Nyiri.
Editor: Andrew Whyte