EU prosecutor plan to catch the fraudsters

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The Independent Online
A NEW European public prosecutor able to pursue fraud cases across all 15 EU countries should be appointed in a year, say far-reaching recommendations by a committee investigating sleaze and mismanage- ment in Brussels.

The proposal, in the second damning report produced by independent experts, would dramatically increase the EU's judicial powers in the pursuit of financial abuses. The experts' first report in March brought the mass resignation of the last European Commission led by Jacques Santer.

Yesterday's findings show fraud, mismanagement or inefficiency affects most aspects of EU life, but also points out that much of the abuse is inside member states through, for example, fake claims for subsidies.

That new European prosecutor would prepare prosecutions to be taken over by national courts. The EU would set up an office in each country to deal with European fraud, acting through national police and judicial systems.

Ultimately the plan envisages a European Prosecution Office with public prosecutors in member states which would "establish the EU as a single legal area for the purposes of investigation, prosecution, trial and execution of sentence concerning EU offences". The number of officials facing fraud investigations is "a relatively low 30", the document says, adding that the EU fight against abuse so far has been "incoherent and incomplete".

Most of the more costly fraud occurs in customs collection, agricultural spending and structural funds, administered jointly by the commission and member states.

Such is the scale of the problems confronted by Romano Prodi, the incoming European Commission president, that the committee makes 90 specific recommendations.

It calls for "a serious rethink" of internal auditing, a charter protecting "whistleblowers", and formal legal powers for the president of the commission to sack errant commissioners.

Mr Prodi said the document will "stiffen my resolve to turn the Commission into a modern and efficient administration".