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Italy: Aquaculture producers investigated for suspected €4.5 million fraud

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(Luxembourg, 5 December 2023) – Following an investigation by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Palermo and Rome (Italy), coercive measures were decreed today against three aquaculture producers, suspected of committing fraud involving EU maritime and fisheries funds, with an estimated damage of €4.5 million.

The suspects run a string of companies operating in the aquaculture industry, with headquarters in the province of Rome and offices in Petrosino, Rome, Guidonia and Piombino. The companies form a complete supply chain, from the breeding of fish to the production of sushi for supermarkets and restaurants, serving markets throughout Italy.

The companies under investigation obtained approximately €4.5 million, granted by the Regions of Sicily, Lazio and Tuscany, under the EU’s European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) Operational Program 2014–2020, for projects relating to the construction and refurbishment of production sites.

However, the investigation uncovered a fraudulent mechanism, by which the construction and refurbishment works were assigned to a company that belonged to the same corporate structure as the companies benefitting from the funds. According to the evidence, this allowed for the costs of the project to be inflated and for the organisation to obtain illicit profits – which were then used for ends other than those established under the projects.

The facts under investigation could constitute criminal association for committing aggravated fraud to obtain public financing, money laundering and fraudulent transfer of funds.

At the request of the EPPO, the judge for preliminary investigations of Tivoli ordered the house arrest of one suspect, and the requirement to stay in the municipality of residence for two others. In addition, the judge ordered a seizure of €4.5 million against six companies operated by the suspects, which was executed today by the Italian Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza) – Provincial Command of Trapani.

All persons concerned are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in the competent Italian courts of law.

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.