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EU anti-fraud office identified nearly €300m in misused public funds last year

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EU anti-fraud office identified nearly €300m in misused public funds last year
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The European Union's anti-fraud office recommended that the Commission recover €293m in public funds last year, according to its annual report released on Thursday.

OLAF's assessment of its work from last year showed that apart from fighting traditional fraud related to EU funds and cross-border crime, it had to act against fraudsters trying to benefit from the pandemic.

According to the agency's director Ville Itälä, it identified over 1,000 suspicious businesses and contributed to the seizure of millions of counterfeit items, including face masks, hand sanitiser and testing kits, many of them dangerous for people's health.

"That was at the beginning of the pandemic - the offers of counterfeit masks. We had a lot of issues in many member states. They immediately needed a lot of masks and they did not have them. And then what they got was counterfeit. They were not real ones, substandard masks, really bad ones," Itälä told Euronews.

The agency normally remains silent on its investigations, but in February this year, it went public to warn member states of a major vaccine scam. At the time the EU was facing a major shortage and criminals made contact with 16 member states, albeit without success.

"Immediately when they started to vaccinate people, the fraudulent people came in and made fake vaccine offers to member states' authorities. The total amount of this was 1.2 billion doses. It means 16 billion euros at the asking price. So it shows how huge this fraud was. And the offers looked like totally real ones," Itälä explained.

This year the agency faces another task as the rollout of the EU's recovery funds starts, OLAF wants more coordination with member states and the new European Public Prosecutor's Office to fight fraudsters willing to cheat with public funds.