By Nikolaj Nielsen | EUObserver
The annual theft of EU funds is around Ä500 million, but a top European Commission official says the figure is likely in the billions.
ďWe have reasons to believe that the real figure is closer to billions than to millions,Ē Francoise Le Bail, who heads the commissionís justice directorate-general, told the European Parliamentís civil liberties committee on Wednesday (18 September).
The current Ä500 million figure arises from statistics sent to Olaf, the EU anti-fraud office, by member states, but Le Bail said national authorities do not have the right tools to make an accurate estimate.
Le Bail, along with Olaf boss Giovanni Kessler, spoke to MEPs to set out their case for tracking down those who steal EU money by setting up a new European Public Prosecutorís Office (EPPO).
The EU-wide prosecutor would be mandated to investigate fraud of EU finances, although the Lisbon Treaty says the officeís power could be expanded at a later date.
The top prosecutor would be composed of a central office along with deputies or prosecutors from different member states. Most member states would also have an EPPO branch staffed with prosecutors selected by the respective national governments.
Kessler says the office is necessary because national authorities have a dismal track record when it comes to chasing down leads sent to them by Olaf.
ďThere is a non-uniformity by member states in their capacity and willingness to deal effectively with these kinds of crimes,Ē he said.
Conviction rates sent to Olaf over the past 13 years vary from less than 5 percent in some member states to over 90 percent in others.
Both Le Bail and Kessler said political will among some member states to stop the theft is either non-existent or primarily focused on a national perspective that fails to look at the transnational nature of the crime.
ďCrimes which are committed by authors at the same time by different actors in different member states like corruption, like fraud involving European funds, are likely not to be discovered, not to be even seen or perceived by national authorities which only have a national fragmented perspective,Ē said Kessler.
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