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Lithuania: 27 arrested in probe into fraud involving up to €750 000 in funds for young farmers

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Last week, on behalf of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), the Lithuanian Financial Crime Investigation Service (FCIS) carried out 46 searches and arrested 27 suspects for fraud involving up to €750 000 in funds for young farmers. Three of the suspects have been placed in detention. 

The searches, which involved almost 100 FCIS officers (Finansinių nusikaltimų tyrimo tarnyba), were carried out in the counties of Vilnius, Kaunas, Panevėžys, Šiauliai and Klaipėda.

On the radar of the investigation, carried out by the EPPO’s European Delegated Prosecutors in Vilnius (Lithuania), in cooperation with the FCIS, are four business partners managing companies providing agricultural services.

It is suspected that the four business partners organised a fraudulent scheme by which they submitted applications for project funding on behalf of young farmers, while knowing that the projects would not be implemented by them. In order to do so, they are believed to have used several accomplices, including at least 16 persons with whom they had family ties or employment relations.

According to the investigation, in the summer of 2021 they submitted to Lithuania’s National Paying Agency (NPA) at least 20 applications for funding, under the programme ‘Support for the setting-up of young farmers’, financed by the Lithuanian Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. Subsequently, the members of the suspected organised group obtained more than €650 000 in EU and national funding. They are also believed to have attempted to obtain at least €106 000 more.

It is alleged that, using the funds obtained, the suspected members of the organised group concluded fictitious transactions for loans and the provision of agricultural services, as well as for the purchase and sale of agricultural parcels. These fictitious contracts were concluded with individuals or companies with ties to the suspects.

According to the evidence gathered, these transactions were carried out in order to simulate the fulfillment of obligations during the implementation period of the projects.

During the searches, accounting documents, contracts, notes, computers and phones were seized, as well as thousands of euros in cash. In addition, possible narcotic substances were also found and are being investigated by the Lithuanian police.

In order to recover the damages to national and EU budgets, a freezing order of real estate worth more than €650 000 was also executed.

Under the Lithuanian criminal code, fraudulent acquisition of a third person’s high-value assets is punishable with up to eight years’ imprisonment. Forgery of documents and their use is punishable with up to six years’ imprisonment.