Italian aquaculture companies facing EU fraud probe
Three Italian aquaculture producers are being investigated by the European Union for alleged fraud.
The figure involved, says the EU’s independent public prosecuting office, is around €4.5m (£3.9m). The companies have not been named.
A statement from the office said: “Following an investigation by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Palermo and Rome coercive measures were decreed against three aquaculture producers, suspected of committing fraud involving EU maritime and fisheries funds, with an estimated damage of €4.5m
“The suspects run a string of companies operating in the aquaculture industry, with headquarters in the province of Rome and offices in Petrosino, Rome, Guidonia and Piombino. The companies form a complete supply chain, from the breeding of fish to the production of sushi for supermarkets and restaurants, serving markets throughout Italy.”
The office alleges that the companies under investigation obtained approximately €4.5 million, granted by the regions of Sicily, Lazio and Tuscany, under the EU’s European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) Operational Programme between 2014 and 2020, for projects relating to the construction and refurbishment of production sites.
It adds: “However, the investigation uncovered a fraudulent mechanism, by which the construction and refurbishment works were assigned to a company that belonged to the same corporate structure as the companies benefitting from the funds.
“According to the evidence, this allowed for the costs of the project to be inflated and for the organisation to obtain illicit profits – which were then used for ends other than those established under the projects.”
It warns that the facts under investigation could constitute criminal association for committing aggravated fraud to obtain public financing, money laundering and fraudulent transfer of funds.
At the request of the EPPO, the judge for preliminary investigations of Tivoli ordered the house arrest of one suspect, and the requirement to stay in the municipality of residence for two others. In addition, the judge ordered a seizure of €4.5m against six companies operated by the suspects.
The office stressed: “All persons concerned are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in the competent Italian courts of law.”