Bulgaria and Italy were the two countries with the highest number of investigations by the EU's anti-fraud office OLAF, according to the agency's 2011 report, presented to the Brussels press yesterday (19 October).
"The geographical breakdown of incoming information, focusing on EU member states and candidate countries, shows that a significant share of new information continues to relate to a small number of countries," says the OLAF report.
OLAF handled 419 investigations in EU member states in 2010, 81 of which were in Bulgaria and 41 in Italy, a founding member of the European Union.
Belgium comes third with 37 cases. However, the country hosting the EU institutions is a special case, precisely because of the high number of cases treated in the institutions themselves.
The bulk of the investigations concerned the EU institutions (139) and the agricultural sector (117).
For the remaining countries, the statistics are broken down as follows: Austria 6 cases, Cyprus 3 cases, Czech Republic 10 cases, Denmark 0 cases, Estonia and Finland 1 case each, France 20 cases, Germany 34 cases, Greece 23 cases, Hungary 7 cases, Ireland 5 cases, Latvia 2 cases, Lithuania 5 cases, Luxembourg 7 cases, Malta 5 cases, Netherlands 13 cases, Poland 17 cases, Portugal 8 cases, Romania 36 cases, Slovakia 6 cases, Slovenia 3 cases, Spain 22 cases, Sweden 3 cases and UK 23 cases.
The cases treated have allowed OLAF to recover €68 million. The highest amounts were recovered in the structural funds sector (€32.9 million), followed by agriculture (€11.9 million) and direct expenditure (€10.6 million).
The total of sentences pronounced as a result of the investigations amounted to 125 years of imprisonment. Some of the dossiers treated in 2010 had been opened much earlier.
The news of the OLAF report was received with special attention in Bulgaria, which holds presidential and local elections on Sunday. The national daily Sega led with the front-page headline "Bulgaria is again the champion of EU fraud". Indeed, Bulgaria topped the ranking last year as well, with 68 cases, followed by Belgium, 48 cases and Italy, 36 cases.
Bulgaria holds the highest number of OLAF investigations, but together with Romania it is also among the EU countries with the lowest absorption rate of EU funds, as a result both of corruption and low administrative capacity.
"Bulgaria is the cherry on Olaf's cake", titles ironically the daily Standart. The Bulgarian press reminds that Bulgaria and Romania hope that EU leaders will decide at their summit on Sunday to unblock the accession of the two new EU members to the Union's borderless Schengen area.
However, the Netherlands reportedly continues to be opposed, due to the lack of progress by Sofia and Bucharest in fighting corruption. In the case of Bulgaria, the Hague is worried by the impunity of organised crime.
The news of the OLAF report went virtually unnoticed in Italy.