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Abuse of IPARD funds, the EU blocks the package with 112 million euros for Albania

Abuse of IPARD funds, the EU blocks the package with 112 million euros for

The European Union's Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, said in a press release on Friday that around 33 million euros in funds meant to help struggling Albanian rural communities had been misused.

The money was apparently used corruptly by the Albanian National Agency for Rural Development, which managed the project, writes Balkan Insight .

OLAF advised the European Commission to block another €112 million earmarked for the next phase of the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance for Rural Development, PARD.

"After a series of complex investigative steps, including digital forensic searches of documents related to recipients of IPARD II, AZHBR and other economic operators, OLAF discovered some serious irregularities during the grant awarding phase and the implementation of some projects" , it is stated in the press release .

"Following its investigation, OLAF recommended that the European Commission consider part of the funding of the First and Second IPARD II Calls for Applications 33 million euros, as inappropriate," the statement added. " OLAF further recommended that the EU prevent 112 million euros of future funding (IPARD III) for Albania from unnecessary spending, until corrective measures are put in place to protect the EU's financial interests from any illegal activity."

OLAF found three main ways to manipulate the grant process: firstly, hopeful applicants, some seeking hundreds of thousands of euros to fund business ideas, were advised to use the services of a local consultancy company, which "requested a significant portion of their grant" to facilitate the contract.

Second, the competitive process was manipulated by the submission of false bids; Finally, the prices for the investments have been inflated, while some of the beneficiaries have violated their contractual obligations.

An earlier investigation published by BIRN showed how the OLAF investigation began when one of the grant applicants, believing he had been wrongly rejected, reported the case to both Albanian prosecutors and the EU's Anti-Fraud Office. Albanian prosecutors are officially still investigating the case, without making much progress.

OLAF underlined that, "given the possible criminal activities discovered during the investigation, OLAF also sent a copy of its findings to the judicial authorities of Albania".

A spokesman for Prime Minister Edi Rama's office did not respond to BIRN's request for comment at the time of publication.

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