The EU prosecutor opened nearly 1,000 investigations in the first year
She has brought to justice former prime ministers, former ministers, deputies and mayors in Romania.
But Laura Kövesi says being the EU’s first-ever chief prosecutor is the toughest job she’s ever had.
“We had to build from scratch,” she said of her office’s first year in an interview with a group of Brussels-based journalists.
His office has already proven its added value, especially in cross-border investigations and the fight against organized crime, Kövesi explained.
The EU Prosecutor’s Office received more than 4,000 crime reports, opened 929 investigations, issued 28 indictments and secured four convictions in its first year of operation.
He obtained the freezing orders for 259 million euros in assets, more than four times the size of his annual budget.
“Everyone expected it to start step by step, but we started at supersonic speed in my opinion,” said the former Romanian prosecutor, who was so feared by her country’s political elite that Bucharest lobbied against his appointment in 2019.
Kövesi served as Romania’s chief prosecutor in the anti-corruption directorate from 2013 until she was expelled from her office in 2018, by the then justice minister.
The 49-year-old heads the EU’s first Attorney General’s Office which was launched exactly a year ago on June 1.
The mission of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) is to protect the financial interests of the EU by combating cross-border VAT fraud, money laundering and corruption.
Kövesi praised her team of prosecutors, many of whom joined the office out of conviction, she said.
“Most of the colleagues had to leave their comfort zone, it was a real adventure,” she added.
The main office in Luxembourg has 22 European prosecutors who will oversee member states’ cases and approve key decisions in investigations, such as indictments.
The European Public Prosecutor’s Office also has a network of 140 European Delegated Prosecutors based in the capitals of the Member States, but working for the Luxembourg office integrated into their national criminal code.
The new setup allowed EU prosecutors to more efficiently and quickly obtain documents, information or conduct house searches if they discovered cross-border issues.
However, the level of enthusiasm varies considerably from one Member State to another.
Malta has not launched any investigation, according to EPPO’s annual report published in March.
In April, Kövesi told MEPs that Malta was paying lip service to its efforts to crack down on fraud and corruption in the EU.
“Some police officers said it was not their job to detect the crime. […] It’s a matter of mentality, it’s a matter of will,” Kövesi said without naming Malta.
“Some member states do not send us cases, either they do not detect them or they do not want to send them to us,” she said, adding that “statistics show the will of the authorities to fight against corruption “.
Italy, Bulgaria, Romania and Germany opened the highest number of investigations.
Cases handled by the EPP come from private sources, local police, prosecutors, the EU’s anti-fraud agency, Olaf, or EU auditors.
Failing to adhere or cooperate
Five member states have not joined the prosecution: Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Poland and Sweden.
Hungary has a working agreement with EPPO, and Kövesi said the cooperation went smoothly.
However, Poland has so far refused to cooperate.
Warsaw has not yet adopted legislation supporting mutual cooperation. Kövesi noted that member states have five years to adopt the necessary legislation to be able to work with EU prosecutors.
Poland is involved in the most cases among non-participating EU countries, but refused to cooperate with EU prosecutors in all 23 cases.
Kövesi also had a run-in with the Slovenian government last year.
Ljubljana first withdrew the appointment of the delegated prosecutors, then tried to try to change the criminal code, which would have an impact on the local functioning of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.
The 22 participating Member States have very different mentalities, each with its own different judicial system.
“There are no ‘clean’ countries, no one will convince me of a case-free country,” she said.
“I’m suspicious, because I’m a prosecutor,” added Kövesi.