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From COVID to waste, EU anti-fraud office wants bloc to recover over €500 million

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By Alberto De Filippis
Image of 50 euro notes
Image of 50 euro notes   -   Copyright  AFP

The European Union's Anti-Fraud office recommended this year that more than €500 million of EU funds be recovered.

In OLAF's report on its investigations in 2021, they said that some of the most serious fraud investigated was related to waste and COVID-19.

Around 800 tonnes of waste were seized in Italy in 2021, including industrial waste that was about to be shipped to non-European countries such as Malaysia.

Ville Itala, OLAF's director-general, said that "fraudsters continued to try to take advantage of COVID-19".

"We exposed the fraudster's scam attempts as they tried to approach national authorities with bogus offers of vaccines worth over €16 billion," Itala said.

There was also fraud around medical masks that arrived in Europe between 2020 and 2021, with hundreds of millions of counterfeit pieces in European markets.

"Since we saw how companies that made for example garden products or things had to jump into the mask market which seemed very lucrative given the total absence of material," said Ernesto Bianchi, OLAF's deputy-director.

"The worst-case we saw was that of masks that were arriving from Vietnam made with pressed toilet paper all with the European quality mark," he added.

OLAF also began collaborating with the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO).

The office opened at least 85 cases due to information from the anti-fraud office, making it possible to save over €2 billion in funds that could otherwise have been used illegally.

Now, the war in Ukraine has caused a potential for more fraud cases. In addition to creating a humanitarian disaster, the conflict has changed smuggling routes.

Watch the video in the player above to learn more.