MEDIA AND INSTITUTIONS UNITED AGAINST FINANCIAL FRAUD WITH EU FUNDS

A Training Seminar for journalists and state administrators engaged with the distribution and management of the EU Cohesion and Structural Funds was provided in Sofia on Sept. 7th 2007. It was initiated by the Bulgarian Club Journalists Against Corruption and supported by the Chief Prosecutor Office of Republic Bulgaria, AFCOS Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Financial Intelligence Agency.

The Seminar theme was: “Media Control for Prevention Misuse of the EU Funds. The European Standards for Creating Mechanism of Mutual Cooperation and Trust between the Institutions and the Media for Prevention of Financial Fraud and Corruption, Related to the EU Funds and for Defending the EU Financial Interests of the EU in Bulgaria. The Challenges before the Bulgarian Institutions and the Investigative Journalists.”

The Seminar was attended by:

  • Dr. Vassil Kirov - General Director of the Bulgarian FIA and MONEYVAL Committee Chairman,
  • Boris Velchev – Chief Prosecutor of Republic Bulgaria,
  • Rumen Petkov – Interior Affairs Minister of Bulgaria and Chair of AFCOS Bulgaria.

Our special guests were:

  • Alessandro Buttice – Spokesman of OLAF
  • Wolfgang Hetzer – Anticorruption Advisor of OLAF,
  • Thierry Cretin – OLAF Director of “Expenses and Financial Aid”.

Opening the Seminar, minister Petkov said that during the last few years Bulgaria created a climate of intolerance and rejection of the corruption practices. He pointed out that since 2005 the Internal Affairs Ministry has got 97 alarm letters, referring to financial fraud with the EU funds. He said that the cooperation between the Police and Club Journalists Against Corruption has influenced the society to partner the Institutions. He declared also that during the last months, the Police started 11 investigations, related to financial fraud with the EU funds and in 3 of these cases there is a successful collaboration with the European Anti-Fraud Office – OLAF. Minister Petkov reminded that there are 927 cases of professional position crime and 182 cases of bribes, registered during the current Bulgarian Government mandate.

In his presentation at the Seminar, Thierry Cretin – OLAF Director of “Expenses and Financial Aid” explained that if aiming no financil fraud and corruption with the EU funds, the cooperation between the media and the institutions is more than necessary: “In case you ask me, whether there is corruption in Bulgaria, my answer is – yes! But in case you ask me if Bulgaria is the only country, suffering from corruption – I think, no!” Mr. Cretin said that there has been high authority level corruption in France also.

Alessandro Buttice – Spokesman of OLAF added that the public opinion regarding Bulgaria in the other member states is not quite positive: “I’m talking about public views which nowadays are maybe even more important than the reality!” In this perspective, the OLAF experts stressed on the fact that, the anti-fraud and anti-corruption activities in Bulgaria should be very reliable.

The Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor Office reported 3 cases of EU funds misuse, brought to the Court during the first six months of 2007. In 2006 they have investigated 29 disorder cases, related as follows: 18 to SAPARD program, 10 to PHARE program and 1 to ISPA. The Chief Prosecutor Boris Velchev discussed the question if we have the necessary Law, which should conduct easily tthe protection of the EU funds as well as the EU financial interest in Bulgaria. He pointed out that we have laws, but some of their texts are badly edited and so, it is hard to punish some forms of crime. Mr. Velchev recommended the Bulgarian Law adaptation to the European anti-fraud Law as this type of crime is currently a trans national one and fighting it requires an international collaboration. In this perspective, there are concrete steps to be provided between the Bulgarian Prosecutor Office and its EU member state partners as well as with OLAF. The Chief Prosecutor also stressed on the necessary co
ntrol to be conducted by different institutions as well as on the public control, which in a great extend depends on the media activity.

Dr. Vassil Kirov - General Director of the Bulgarian FIA said also that his experts also rely very much on anti fraud public and media alarm letters: “Some EU funds misuse and disorder, which we may miss, might be observed either by journalists or even by ordinary people!” He said that it is impossible to control each deal, but if related to the EU funds realization in Bulgaria, the local institutions are supposed to monitor and strictly audit every financial operation.

The Club Journalists Against Corruption Chair of Board – Reneta Nikolova pointed out that no doubt, the development of mutual trust between the media and the institutions will be a long and complicated process, most probably full of expected difficulties as well as with unexpected problems. However, the Seminar brought the beginning and gave a powerful starting impulse of this process just in time at the very start of the EU funds adoption and realization in Bulgaria by the local institutions. Mrs. Nikolova said also: “Our intention is to work for a mutual understanding and mutual honor between the journalists and the institutions, although most probably, in many cases we’ll have a pretty different view point to the facts as well as a different perspective on their evaluation!”

Mrs. Nikolova expressed her gratitude to the Head of OLAF – Franz-Herman Brunner for his support for the Seminar success by sending to Sofia 3 of the OLAF basic experts: Mr. Buttice, Mr. Hetzer and Mr. Cretin whose presentations were very impressive and laid a strong impact of the EU communication standards on all of the Seminar attendants.

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