September 25, 2019 / 11:34 AM / a month ago

Romanian anti-graft crusader becomes first EU fraud prosecutor

FILE PHOTO: Laura Codruta Kovesi, Romania's former chief anti-corruption prosecutor, arrives to attend a hearing at the Section for the Investigation of Criminal Offences in the judiciary in Bucharest, Romania, February 15, 2019. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A former Romanian anti-corruption chief who was sacked by the Bucharest government on the grounds that she exceeded her authority has been made the European Union’s first prosecutor with a mandate to crack down on fraud.

The European Parliament and the European Council have agreed to the appointment of Laura Kovesi as European Chief Prosecutor, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

Kovesi won a reputation as a tough anti-graft crusader in Romania before the justice minister secured her sacking her in July last year. She had received plaudits in Brussels for increasing conviction rates in one of the EU’s most corrupt states.

The EU already has an anti-fraud agency, called OLAF, which identifies cases of fraud and recommends that individual EU members take action, including the recovery of funds.

The Commission said that at least 50 billion euros (44.3 billion pounds) of revenue from sales tax, some of which fund the EU budget, are lost every year through cross-border fraud in the bloc.

At present only national authorities can prosecute EU budget fraud in their respective countries, leading to criticism that some countries are undermining the rule of law.

“The European Public Prosecutor will make sure that action at union level goes one step further, and actually takes criminals to court in cases of criminal offences affecting the Union budget,” EU Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in a statement.

The new public prosecutor’s office should be set up in Luxembourg by the end of 2020.

Twenty-two of the 28 EU countries are taking part. Those not participating are Hungary, Ireland, Poland and Sweden, as well as Denmark, which has a general opt-out on EU legal issues, and Britain, which is set to leave the bloc.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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