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Embezzlement of EU funds by public school principal in Italy – pupils deprived of school lunches and computers

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This morning, 21 April 2023, the Carabinieri of Palermo (Italy) executed restrictive measures of house arrests against three suspects, issued by the judge for preliminary investigations of the Court of Palermo. This is based on the findings of an investigation into embezzlement and corruption, led by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Palermo.

Between February 2022 and April 2023, the EPPO Investigative Section of the Carabinieri Provincial Headquarters in Palermo collected strong circumstantial evidence against two public officials – a public school principal and her deputy – who are alleged to have embezzled both EU and national funds, related to various public school projects in a socially deprived area.

According to the investigation, the suspects falsely declared the number of pupils at a school to justify Programma Operativo Nazionale (PON) projects, which are EU-funded scholarship programmes for public school students. These projects were never, or only partially, implemented.

In addition, the investigators discovered that significant amounts of food supplies and expensive computer and technological devices – which were intended for the students – had been stored inside the office of the principal, and were then misappropriated by the principal and by her deputy. 

The investigative activity also unveiled that the school’s principal entrusted the supply of technological material to one single company, represented by the third suspect.. It is understood that, by paying bribes, this company kept the monopoly over the supply of technological material provided to the school.

This type of crime reflects an abandonment of duty towards improving the prospects of disadvantaged communities, for the pursuit of private interests – and can cause severe damage to the educational purposes and successful outcome of numerous projects financed by the EU.

The exact amount of damages to the EU’s financial interests is still to be determined, due to the need to examine the relevant documents of the numerous projects carried out by the suspects.

The damages are currently estimated at over €100 000.