The European fraud watchdog, OLAF, has found irregularities in direct payments during its investigations into possible misuse of EU funds for agriculture in Slovakia.
Three separate investigations were undertaken in 2020 into direct payments granted to Slovakian farmers in the form of per-hectare basic income support between 2013 and 2019.
The first investigation examined if payments were made to farmers who claimed payments on overlapping land parcels. It was found no irregular payments were made as Slovakian authorities declared double-claimed land as ineligible, meaning no farmer received payment on disputed plot.
The second investigation focused on applications for payment submitted by one company suspected of intentionally claiming payment on ineligible land.
Numerous issues were identified including ineligibility because the main use was not agricultural and a breach of the obligation to maintain the permanent grassland in good agricultural condition.
The final investigation identified how certain areas that had been claimed for years by some companies were in fact not covered by legally valid lease contracts. To receive a payment, a farmer or company is required to prove they are in control of the land.
OLAF found several deficiencies in the control and management of direct payments in Slovakia.
As a result of the shortcomings in the verification processes, OLAF believes that overpayments could amount to more than €1m.
OLAF Director-General Ville Itälä said: ‘’Fair and duly monitored access to EU funds is a precondition to making sure that every cent is spent correctly.
“OLAF investigates to help redress any irregularities – but our long-standing expertise also means that we can assist the competent national authorities in addressing complex matters in this field. Together, we work to protect EU taxpayers’ money.’’