Italian police and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) have uncovered an elaborate fraud scheme run by a crinimal group with links to the mafia.
The scheme spanned across seven different EU countries, including Ireland, with the group having committed fraud against EU rural development funds worth some €9.5m.
It involved the purchase of machinery with the support of EU funds at an inflated price. The machinery was declared as new, when it was in fact secondhand or purchased at a much lower price than officially declared.
Fictitious companies were set up outside Italy to cover the traces of fraud and facilitate the money laundering.
Both the buying and the selling companies had ties to the fraudsters according to OLAF, with the fictitious sales of food products used to launder the illicit profits back to those who initiated the scheme. This closed the circle on a “highly sophisticated fraud”.
Special Carabinieri units conducted an operation in the southern Italian region of Puglia against the criminal group involved called Società Foggiana. In total, 48 people were arrested under operation ‘Grande Carro’, Italian for ‘Big Dipper’.
Charges against those arrested included the offence of mafia-type criminal association, money laundering, extortion, intimidation, kidnapping, illegal detention of firearms and explosives and fraud.
Access to bank account statements analysis of movements of cash valued at more than €17m allowed OLAF to reconstruct the money transfers made outside of Italy. This proved crucial in confirming the money-laundering scheme, it said.
On-the-spot checks on the machinery were also performed.
Filippo Spiezia, vice president of Eurojust, the EU Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation said: “The investigation in this case confirms the seriousness of the threat to the abuse of EU funds, posed by organised crime.
“This shows the need to work together to combat this kind of crime by all EU institutions and we stand ready to support OLAF and the European Public Prosecutor’s Office now and in the future.”