In 2021 the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) recommended over half a billion euro to be recovered to the EU budget. Detecting and investigating increasingly adaptable fraudsters, and working on preventing fraud against the EU’s multi-billion Recovery and Resilience Facility, OLAF continued to protect the EU budget despite the continuous challenges posed by the pandemic.
The OLAF Report 2021 published today unveils emerging fraud trends on a wide range of issues and also investigations and operations with a special focus on fraud schemes damaging the environment – from an afforestation project that never happened to a collapsed pipeline for drinking water – as well as important frauds in the field of customs and waste smuggling.
Fraud targeting green projects and digitalisation
At least 37% of the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility money will go towards facilitating the EU’s green transition. In 2021, OLAF detected and investigated cases that show how fraudsters also targeted green projects as well as funding for digitalisation, another pillar of NextGenerationEU funding. These cases and patterns feed into OLAF’s analysis and future investigations, which will help protect the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility going forward. Examples in the 2021 OLAF report include cases of fraud against funding for software projects, alternatives to pesticides, forests, and more environmentally friendly aircrafts. Smuggling across borders can also negatively impact Europe’s green ambitions: as the report shows, OLAF has been active against waste trafficking, the smuggling of illicit refrigerant gases, and illicit pesticides.
Preventing fraud and protecting the EU’s recovery money
Preventing losses to revenue and preventing fraud in expenditure is the most effective way of ensuring that every euro is well spent. In the past year, OLAF has continued to also focus on prevention. One of the cases presented in the 2021 OLAF report shows how OLAF’s investigators uncovered a potential misuse of no less than €330 million – and recommended stopping it before it could take place. OLAF’s fraud prevention experts have also worked on the Recovery and Resilience Facility in 2021. A dedicated task force screened national plans for adequate measures to prevent fraud and reported directly to colleagues at the European Commission who were in charge of approving the National Recovery and Resilience Plans of the EU’s 27 Member States.
Fake offers of vaccines against COVID-19
In February 2021, OLAF issued a clear public warning against possible scams related to COVID-19 vaccines. OLAF had been receiving information from governmental sources in EU Member States about offers by alleged intermediaries to sell large quantities of vaccines, mostly of the kind approved for use in the EU. The aim of the fraudsters – as OLAF established – was to convince public authorities to make large down payments to secure the sale, and to disappear with the money. All these different scam attempts represented almost 1.2 billion vaccine doses for a total asking price of over €16.4 billion. OLAF’s intervention helped expose these fake offers, preventing huge losses to public finances and protecting the vaccine roll-out.
Tobacco products account for a large share of the smuggled or counterfeit goods targeted by OLAF each year. 2021 was no different: OLAF and its partners stopped a total of 437 million illicit cigarettes from entering the EU market. The amount is made up of 93 million cigarettes smuggled into the EU; 253 million cigarettes impounded outside its borders; and 91 million cigarettes illegally produced at sites across the EU. OLAF also helped national authorities confiscate a total of 372 tonnes of raw tobacco. These actions are estimated to have saved EU Member States €90 million in lost revenue.
To read the full report, please click here.
For further information: OLAF — News