On June 1, 2021, the European Public Prosecutor's Office, the European Union's new arm to combat fraud, became operational.
The key elements of the new Public Prosecutor's Office are as follows:
Jurisdiction of the European Public Prosecutor's Office
Since 1988, responsibility for countering attacks on the financial interests of the European Union and its Member States has fallen on the individual Member States, which have enacted a patchwork of laws in this area. The resources allocated to the enforcement and prosecution of financial crimes differ greatly from one Member State to another, however. Additionally, limits to the extraterritorial jurisdiction of certain States can hamper the fight against cross-border financial crime.
In this context, the European Public Prosecutor's Office was created to investigate, prosecute, and bring to trial—within the Member States themselves—offenses detrimental to the financial interests of the European Union. Such crimes include attacks on revenue and Union expenditures committed after November 20, 2017 (for instance, embezzlement of funds exceeding €10,000, cross-border VAT fraud resulting in damage greater than €10 million, and laundering funds derived from these offenses). In 2018, VAT fraud alone would have represented €140 billion in losses for Member State budgets.
The European Public Prosecutor's Office has priority, but not exclusive jurisdiction, over the aforementioned crimes. Member States will have to report to the European Public Prosecutor's Office the suspected existence of crimes likely to fall within its jurisdiction. Once the European Public Prosecutor's Office has received the report, it may decide to prosecute the suspected crimes or defer to the competent national authorities to do so.
The Organization of the European Public Prosecutor's Office
The European Public Prosecutor's Office comprises 22 of the 27 Member States in the European Union. Several States, including Hungary, Poland, and Sweden, have decided not to participate.
The European Public Prosecutor's Office is built on two levels:
- The first level—known as "structural"—brings together the chief prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kövesi, whose mission is to manage the Prosecutor's Office, as well as the 22 European prosecutors (one per Member State), who decide on the strategy to be developed.
- The second level—known as "operational"—comprises the European delegated prosecutors who lead investigations and criminal prosecutions within the Member States, as well as the permanent chambers whose mission is to supervise and direct the investigations.
The creation of the European Public Prosecutor's Office demonstrates the strong and continued interest of European governments in adopting a proactive approach to the investigation and prosecution of financial crimes. Companies operating in the region should ensure that their compliance programs fully take into account all legal requirements and enforcement activities associated with the new European Public Prosecutor's Office.
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