OLAF /05/17 Brussels, the 18 November 2005
VAT-fraud and fraud affecting the area of trade, both agriculture and commercial, were the main focus of a conference for public prosecutors from all over Europe, organised by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) in Brussels. During the two-day conference which finished today, OLAF judicial experts discussed the practical implications of their investigation and operations in these areas with over 70 anti-fraud prosecutors from 27 countries and from Eurojust.
"Working together to protect the financial interests of the European Community against fraud or corruption" was the headline of the Third European Union Conference of Fraud Prosecutors, organised by OLAF in Brussels on 17/18 November. The activity was designed to keep participants informed on OLAF's proceedings and to further streamline the investigative work of the Office with a view towards judicial follow up measures. As a final investigation report from OLAF can constitute evidence in judicial proceedings in all EU-Member States, trustful interaction and close collaboration between OLAF investigators and national public prosecutors is essential as OLAF is not a police force or a Prosecution authority and does not have the powers that such authorities traditionally have.
The conference highlighted two main areas, firstly fraud affecting the area of trade, both agriculture and commercial and secondly VAT frauds.
In the area of trade the European Union policies aim to protect EU industries from unfair competition by use of anti-dumping duties and help less developed countries with preferential regimes to encourage them to develop sectors of their economies by exporting to the EU. Those who seek to fraudulently take advantage or circumvent these regulations cause serious harm to the financial interests of the EU and developing countries.
The second topic covered during the conference was VAT fraud, an area which is subject to large scale fraud. In this area there is often a link to organised crime, terrorism and money laundering. Like any tax VAT is not popular with those who have to pay and the citizens of Europe who pay VAT are entitled to expect that the Member States, the Commission, OLAF, Eurojust and all others concerned take all necessary measures to prevent and fight fraud in this area.
The prosecution of suspected criminal acts is the national judicial authorities' prerogative, even when European Union's financial interests are affected. The legal basis for OLAF stipulates that an OLAF investigation report shall constitute admissible evidence in administrative or judicial proceedings of an EU-Member State in the same way and under the same conditions as administrative reports drawn up by national administrative inspectors. The main precondition is that the procedural requirements laid down in the Member State's national law have been respected. In the course of a subsequent national judicial investigation, OLAF may then further assist the national prosecuting authorities in their work.
If in the future a European Public Prosecutor were to be established, as foreseen by the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, it would then take on the prosecution of cases of fraud against the EU's financial interests.
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