COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – More than 500,000 euros of funds granted by the European Parliament to two pan-European political groups were misused by their members, the European Commission’s anti-fraud watchdog said on Wednesday.
The investigation by the Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) was opened in 2015 on suspicion of fraud and irregularities by the right-wing group MELD and its associated foundation FELD, which received EU grants between 2012 and 2015 and are both now defunct.
The money was meant to have been used to pay for information campaigns about the European Union, but Danish media outlets reported it had been used for promoting individual parties.
MELD, the Movement for a Europe of Liberties and Democracy, was led by the eurosceptic Danish People’s Party’s Morten Messerschmidt from 2014-15, who, as its then president, approved some of the spending. The group also included parties from Italy, Greece and elsewhere.
“We have a clear expectation that nothing criminal can be found about the way we have spent the money,” Messerschmidt, now a lawmaker in the Danish parliament, told Danish news agency Ritzau.
OLAF has passed the investigation to authorities in Italy, Greece and Denmark.
“MELD and FELD were used by the associations’ members to obtain unlawful gains for themselves or for others to the detriment of the European Parliament’s financial interests,” it said in a statement.
It said the European Parliament had sustained financial losses totalling 583,047 euros, of which 127,626 had been recovered.
Denmark’s State Prosecutor for International and Economic Crime confirmed to Reuters it had received a report from OLAF and that it would now determine whether there was basis for further investigation.
The Danish People’s Party, formerly the second-largest party in parliament, has seen its popularity fall from a high of 21% of the vote at the national elections in 2015 to just under 9% at the latest election in 2019.
Messerschmidt said the Danish People’s Party was ready to reimburse the European Parliament if needed.
(Reporting by Andreas Mortensen; Editing by Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Alison Williams)