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Italy: 56 people and two companies indicted for criminal association aimed at systemic agricultural funding fraud and corruption

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field, agriculture

(Luxembourg, 3 November 2023) – The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Palermo (Italy) has been conducting an investigation into organised criminal association, corruption and fraud involving agricultural funds in Sicily, which has now led to an indictment of 56 individuals and two companies.

In June 2022, the Italian Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza) in Palermo uncovered evidence of a web of organized criminal activities involving high-level public officials and industry professionals. This gave rise to serious suspicions of the existence of an organized criminal group, capable of steering decisions in order to allow private companies operating in the surroundings of Palermo to receive agricultural funding from EU and national sources, within the context of the EU’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

As part of the investigation, 12 suspects were placed under house arrest, and 10 additional suspects were obliged to appear before the judicial police. Money and assets worth approximately €2.5 million were preventively seized, as previously reported.

Since then, the investigation has yielded crucial findings, strongly indicating the existence of an alleged criminal association involving a public official and members of a technical office in Marineo (Sicily, Italy). It is understood that this group exerted undue influence over the decision-making process of public officials from the Provincial Agriculture Inspectorate (IPA) of the Sicilian region, ensuring that their clients were granted a disproportionately high percentage of funding applications, resulting in significant financial gain for the members of the group.

According to the investigation, public officials from the IPA, which was responsible for evaluating the eligibility of funding requests, systematically favoured additional technical offices, including those of agronomists and engineers, during the processing and administrative phases of funding applications. This preference appears to have been cultivated through long-standing relationships.

The investigative materials suggest over 20 unlawfully granted funding applications, and two instances of alleged corruption involving public officials and private entrepreneurs. In addition, a range of offences against public order such as criminal association and against public administration, including abuse of office, disclosure of official secrets, material/ideological forgery in public documents, suppression, concealment, and destruction of public records, are alleged to have been committed by the public officials of the IPA in Palermo and the other members of the group in various role.

These allegations, supported by the decisions of the Palermo Court of Review, have been accepted by the Judge of the Preliminary Hearing in Termini Imerese, resulting in the indictment of all individuals suspected of involvement, in various capacities, in the illicit receipt of public contributions.

The trial is scheduled to commence before the Collegiate Court of Termini Imerese on 7 February 2024.

The EPPO is the independent public prosecution office of the European Union. Itis responsible for investigating, prosecuting and bringing to judgment crimes against the financial interests of the EU.