Bulgaria charged with EU farming aid fraud, again
The European Commission has already frozen a total of 825 million euros in farming, road and regional development aid to Bulgaria due to concerns over fraud.Sofia -- Bulgaria's finance ministry suspended payments on new, EU-funded projects in its food processing industry after Europe's anti-fraud office alleged more massive fraud.
Bulgaria's Sega daily newspaper revealed last week that fake or unrealistically high offers for the purchase of machinery for the food processing sector were presented and approved in 64 out of 71 projects recently reviewed by Europe's anti-fraud office (OLAF).
Regulations state that farming fund authorities have to be presented with at least three offers per project from which to choose.
"The facts in the article are true," the finance ministry's press service said. "The ministry suspended the funding after receiving a letter from OLAF."
The amount suspended was 39 million euros, the newspaper reported.
"The projects contained many irregularities and dated back to a period in the past when control was less strict, Bulgaria's Deputy Premier on the use of EU funds, Meglena Plugchieva, told Sega. “A resumption of payments on this measure (for the food industry) cannot be expected."
Bulgaria is currently paying for the blocked projects from its own budget after the European Commission froze a total of 121 million euros in farming aid last year amid reports of widespread corruption.
The European Commission suspended the money when OLAF found that second-hand machines for the meat-processing industry had been presented and paid for as new.
Brussels meanwhile decided in December to extend the Sapard agricultural program for Bulgaria and Romania for another year, until the end of 2009, in order to allow them to wrap up payments on already approved projects.
In Bulgaria, payments of 144 million euros still have to be paid out to some 720 projects.
The European Commission has already frozen a total of 825 million euros in farming, road and regional development aid to Bulgaria due to fraud concerns.
It subsequently decided to definitively cut the country's access to 220 million euros of the frozen money for regional projects.
Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 as its poorest member and is entitled to benefit from pre-accession aid until 2009.