OLAF /08/01 Brussels, 14 January 2008
The Magistrates Court in Créteil (France) has imposed suspended prison sentences on the managers of a dairy company found guilty of selling products manufactured using adulterated butter. The defendants will also have to pay back over €23 million. The judgment is the result of an international investigation in which the European Anti Fraud Office (OLAF) has played an active part, providing back-up for national investigations in France, Italy, Belgium and Germany. The aim of the investigations was to uncover and prosecute offences involving the production and distribution of adulterated butter on the European market, which therefore have implications for the Community budget. The Créteil Court judgment is still subject to appeal; therefore it should be mentioned that the principle of presumption of innocence still applies.
Vice-President Siim Kallas, Commissioner for Anti-Fraud said "The judgment shows that fraud with the EU Budget will not go un-punished. This is a great success for OLAF, perseverance and international cooperation pay off." The Director-General of OLAF, Franz-Hermann Brüner commented "it also shows that OLAF’s work cannot always be expected to bring results overnight. The facts put before the court date back to the end of the 1990s and OLAF provided back-up for the investigations conducted by the national authorities in four Member States for a number of years."
On 22 November 2007 the Créteil Magistrates Court sentenced the defendants to eight months' and five months’ imprisonment respectively for selling goods under false pretences. Both sentences were suspended. They must also pay back over €23 million in unlawfully obtained European subsidies to the French Office for Livestock (l'Office français de l'Élevage, formerly Onilait – Office national interprofessionnel du lait –, which is the agency responsible for paying out Community subsidies in France). As a civil party, the Office for Livestock applied for repayment of the subsidies received by the dairy company between 1997 and 2000 for products which should not have been designated as butter.
However, the Court acquitted the defendants of the charge of offence of conspiracy to defraud in this case of European subsidy fraud, which involved adulterated industrial butter bought at the end of the 1990s by French firms from Italian companies with links to the world of organised crime.
The Créteil Court judgment is still subject to appeal; therefore it should be mentioned that the principle of presumption of innocence still applies.
OLAF operations in the adulterated butter case began with the provision of back-up for the Serious Financial Crime Office of the French Judicial Police (Office de Répression de la Grande Délinquance Financière de la Police Judiciaire française), the Naples Prosecutor's Office and the Guardia di Finanza (the Italian Revenue Police). Criminal proceedings are currently pending in Italy (Naples) and Belgium (Verviers and Veurne). The German authorities have not opened criminal proceedings but have recovered Community subsidies totalling €150 000.
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