EU agencies crack down on pandemic recovery fund fraud

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — European Union agencies are launching a year-long operation to crack down on fraud targeting the bloc’s multibillion-euro COVID-19 pandemic recovery fund, EU police agency Europol announced Friday.

Operation Sentinel will coordinate the fight against fraud, tax evasion, excise fraud, corruption, embezzlement, misappropriation and money laundering and and boost the exchange of information and intelligence.

It involves the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, EU judicial cooperation agency Eurojust, the European Anti-Fraud Office and 19 member states and comes as nations begin unlocking funds for projects that are intended to put Europe on more solid economic footing while also making it greener and more digitally advanced.

Europol has repeatedly warned about organized crime gangs seeking to cash in on the global pandemic in ways ranging from selling counterfeit COVID-19 tests to hacking computers as employees work from home. Now, as billions of euros are poured into economic recovery plans, the EU is ratcheting up its vigilance.

“Recent experience from the evolution of the criminal landscape during the COVID-19 pandemic suggests these efforts will attract criminal groups active in the European Union and beyond,” Europol said in a statement. “Criminals have shown themselves to be quick in adapting to the pandemic and its impact, and they are using every opportunity to maximize illegal profits.”

Europol’s Executive Director Catherine de Bolle said that criminal threats to pandemic recovery funds are “a direct threat to the financial well-being of the European Union and its people. Operation Sentinel will strengthen our joint response to fraud and protect the reconstruction of our communities.”

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