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Italy: EPPO uncovers fraud aimed at funds for young entrepreneurs

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(Luxembourg, 30 October) – In a joint effort with the Italian Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza) in Orbetello (Italy), the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Bologna has uncovered evidence of a deceptive scheme carried out by an agri-businessman to illicitly secure approximately €230 000 in EU funds.

According to the investigation, the agri-businessman leveraged the age of two employees and his daughter to establish two ostensibly new businesses, in order to fraudulently obtain funding from the European Regional Development Fund’s (ERDF) “Youth Package 2016”. It is understood that these two businesses were created exclusively to tap into the funds, thereby diverting them away from their intended purpose of supporting youth entrepreneurship. Instead, they were to be used to renew the businessman’s fleet of vehicles, including tractors and machinery used in his own economic activities.

Evidence of this scheme was uncovered following an initiative by the Guardia di Finanza, aimed at combatting fraud against both the EU and national budgets. It specifically targeted a company called Società Semplice Agricola, which was registered in the names of two Romanian citizens, who had applied for both EU and national subsidies designed to support young agricultural entrepreneurs.

Based on the investigative activities, it is alleged that the agri-businessman was the true owner of this newly established business entity, and that the involvement of the Romanian citizens – who were, in fact, employees of the businessman – was purely due to their age, which provided exclusive access to the ERDF’s “Youth Package 2016” projects. It is also understood that, in an attempt to secure additional, similar subsidies, the businessman registered another agricultural enterprise in his daughter’s name, capitalising on her eligibility criteria (aged between 18 and 40) for financial support.

The investigation has examined approximately €230 000 in granted subsidies. Of this, roughly €82 000 has already been recovered by the Paying Agency, nearly €70 000 has been subjected to seizure pending confiscation, and around €58 000 was never disbursed, due to the timely report submitted by the Guardia di Finanza of the Tuscany region. An administrative process is still underway, seeking to revoke approximately €20 000 of the subsidy distributed through the Tuscany Regional Agency for Agricultural Grants (ARTEA).

The suspects face charges of aggravated fraud and money laundering.

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.