In 2021, a total of 527.4 million euros ($564 million) in European Union (EU) funds were used fraudulently, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) said in its annual report.
OLAF recommends the recovery of this sum.
In its report published on Wednesday, the office unveils emerging fraud trends on a wide range of issues and provides details on investigations on fraud schemes damaging the environment, Xinhua news agency reported.
In 2021, OLAF concluded 212 investigations and issued 294 recommendations to the relevant national and EU authorities. It also opened 234 new investigations.
The office noted that fraudsters continued to profiteer from the Covid-19 pandemic and became even more sophisticated and adaptable, taking full advantage of the opportunities available by working across borders and jurisdictions, exploiting digital tools and professionalising their illicit business activities.
It said fraudsters continued to try to take advantage of Covid-19 at a time when all eyes were focused on the vaccine rollout. It exposed the fraudsters’ scam attempts as they tried to approach national authorities with bogus offers of nearly 1.2 billion vaccine doses worth more than 16 billion euros.
OLAF said it had detected and investigated cases that showed how fraudsters also targeted funding for green and digitalisation projects, including cases of fraud in software development projects, in customs operations that involved counterfeit pesticides, or in EU funding for the development and delivery of environmentally friendly aircraft.
The report details how OLAF’s investigators uncovered the potential misuse of 330 million euros for a social assistance scheme for low-income pensioners in a region of Italy and recommended the project’s termination.
In 2021, OLAF and its partners prevented 437 million illicit cigarettes from entering the EU market and helped national authorities confiscate 372 tonnes of raw tobacco that were destined for the illicit production of cigarettes. These seizures are estimated to have saved the EU member states 90 million euros in lost revenue. (1 euro $1.07)