Twenty-two individuals, including high-level public officials, are suspected of fraud regarding agricultural funds in Sicily. At the request of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), officers of the Italian Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza) of Palermo carried out a judicial warrant this morning, 28 June 2022: 12 suspects were placed under house arrest, and 10 are obliged to appear before the judicial police. Money and assets worth approximately €2.5 million were preventively seized.
The investigation focuses on the application procedures for EU and domestic public funding for agriculture, granted in the framework of the Rural Development Programme [Programma di Sviluppo Rurale – PSR] 2007/2013 and 2014/2020, and managed by the Provincial Inspectorate of Agriculture [Ispettorato Provinciale dell’Agricoltura – IPA].
There are serious suspicions of the existence of a criminal enterprise involving high-level public officials and industry professionals, capable of steering decisions in order to allow private companies operating in the surroundings of Palermo to receive public funds.
Several high-level IPA officials are alleged to have favoured private planning companies (agronomists and engineers) by:
- Unlawfully disclosing the findings of irregularities during the assessment phase of the financing applications and, in some cases, personally replacing documentation previously submitted, thus granting the application a favourable position in the final ranking;
- Fraudulently slowing down control procedures in order to avoid penalties, the forfeiture, or revocation of the subsidies already granted.
Additionally, suspicions of corruption between private citizens and high-level public officials arose:
- Officials designated to verify the compliance of each application allegedly omitted to detect errors in the documentation presented by one private planning firm. In return, they received professional services for a close family member.
- During another verification process, after detecting irregularities in the documents, they apparently helped to replace the documents and received, in return, a position of employment in favour of a family member.
At the moment, the charges pressed against the suspects are: criminal conspiracy; grand larceny within adjudication of public funding; corruption; abuse of office; forgery; the destruction and concealment of documents; and the disclosure of office secrets. The judicial order has been issued based on material elements acquired during the preliminary investigations. While awaiting a definitive judgment, the presumption of innocence must be applied.
The below video by Guardia di Finanza Palermo provides more information about the case: