Laura Codruța Kövesi is ready.
This June 1, the team of prosecutors that it will lead, the new “European public prosecutor’s office” begins its work. These magistrates from 22 States of the Union, all except Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Poland and Hungary, aim to prosecute fraud on European money more effectively.
And the job is not lacking: today, the annual damage of this fraud is estimated between 400 million and 500 million euros … Embezzlement, corruption, money laundering.
Added to this is an astronomical shortfall linked to customs fraud and VAT fraud: 50 billion euros per year would thus escape the coffers of the European Union.
Today these frauds on European money are very unequally prosecuted from one state to another. These European prosecutors will investigate further to bring more cases to national courts.
At their head, a chief prosecutor whom her reputation preceded. When Laura Codruta Kövesi headed the Romanian anti-corruption agency, the DNA, she uncovered facts of corruption at all levels of power, ministers and business leaders, local elected officials and civil servants, with a maxim: “the law is the same for everyone “.
Meeting in Luxembourg with this powerful magistrate, ready to drive out abuse in the dirty corners of bank accounts.
Laura Codruta Kövesi, the European public prosecutor’s office is in working order?
Yes, we are ready! It is time to start, to deal with cases, since it is our job as prosecutors: to conduct investigations.
Why create a “European Public Prosecutor’s Office”? How will it be more effective than national prosecution services to fight fraud on European money ?
The answer lies in the way this parquet works.
Take an example: cross-border fraud. Until now, it was very difficult for prosecutors to investigate this crime because it was necessary to collect information in other European states, which involved following sometimes very cumbersome procedures with many formalities. And sometimes these prosecutors received answers to their requests a year or two later … And in the meantime, the investigation was at a standstill.
The European public prosecutor’s office will facilitate all of this. A Belgian prosecutor can, for example, investigate a case in connection with Romania and Germany. He will call his colleagues at the European Public Prosecutor’s Office in Romania and Germany, he will say what he needs and he will get results. And these documents, obtained at his request, he can use them directly as evidence in his investigation.
We will also exchange information more easily by relying on a common electronic system, called the “case management system”. It will give us access to all open cases in the 22 member states.
This will allow the team that we have created here, the prosecutors but also the analysts, the specialists in financial investigation, to make links, to connect all the information to more easily identify cases of cross-border fraud and so be effective in recovering damage. Because it is thus easier to identify the goods which can be seized.
Will a European team not also guarantee additional protection for prosecutors in the face of external pressure? You are going to tackle large-scale fraud, with possible political complicity.
It is certainly an asset.
CThe prosecution is independent, all the prosecutors here are independent and the way this office has been structured will ensure that there will be no form of interference. ”
No interference from national authorities, other European institutions or others, since we have created a system of permanent chambers with, in each, a trio of prosecutors from three different states.
For example: an investigation conducted on French territory will be overseen by a permanent chamber of three prosecutors, say, Lithuanian, Spanish and Greek. It will therefore be very difficult in this case for someone from the outside to interfere in the activities of the prosecutors.
This is very important because without independence, we cannot cannot speak of the efficiency of justice and one cannot follow the principle that “the law is equal for all”.
Only an independent judiciary can guarantee that everyone is equal before the law.
The European public prosecutor’s office was initially due to start its work at the end of last year, then this start was postponed to March and finally to June. Just in time to watch over the 750 billion euros of the European recovery plan?
Yes. It’s about a huge amount of money, but with fewer rules, more flexibility… This implies a higher risk of crime.
In my opinion, it is obvious that we will have more risk of fraud relating to European funds and more investigations. But we are ready! Until now, there were huge differences between the member states: some states carried out only four investigations per year into fraud linked to European money, and others … a hundred. Now that will change. All our prosecutors will investigate these crimes across the country, with the same priority to identify fraud to better protect European money.
In your eyes, why did certain states open upi few surveys?
They should be asked! I have heard this explanation a lot: “In our country, we don’t have many cases”. But few surveys do not mean that a country is “clean”.
The fact of not having discovered an infringement does not mean that nothing is happening there. The European public prosecutor’s office will carry out investigations in all the Member States, because there is no country of its own.
In your country, Romania, you had been under fierce attack as head of the anti-corruption unit. Are you ready to face this on a European scale?
We will say that I received a very good training.
It is obvious that after we start the investigations, we may be attacked. But we are strong. I think we have a very good team, not only here in Luxembourg at the central level but also decentralized teams in the Member States, our “European Delegated Prosecutors” in charge of the investigations on the ground, and I am sure that we can build a efficient and strong institution.
The effectiveness of this office will depend in part on its financial means. Do you feel that you have a sufficient budget?
It’s a long story… We tried to have an adequate budget. We have asked for 55 million euros, and we are receiving 44.
We don’t have enough budget to hire enough staff.
We need more people here at the central level, more financial investigators to analyze the cases, to identify the types of fraud. There is a risk of blocking our activity for lack of sufficient human resources.
But we have to start well. We cannot wait for the institution to be flawless or to have the perfect budget. We have to start the work.
In return, you will also bring money back into the European budget …
Yes it is ! Since the job of the prosecution is also to take measures to recover the damage, when at the end of the day the judges decide that property should be confiscated. But the budgetary authority decided to allocate only this budget to the European public prosecutor’s office …
We will continue to ask for more and explain why we need more money specifically for staff. We really need the money dedicated to hiring people. Because a strong prosecution must have sufficient human resources to fight crime.
What would you like us to wish you for your years at the head of this European public prosecutor’s office?
(First slight smile)
Success and good luck. Sometimes we also need luck.
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