Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides on Wednesday hit back at the newly established European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) which said that 10 per cent of the 3,000 fraud investigations it estimates it will be dealing with each year would involve Cyprus.
The EPPO is an independent and decentralised prosecution office of the European Union with the competence to investigate, prosecute and bring to judgement crimes against the EU budget, such as fraud, corruption or serious cross-border VAT fraud.
According to Savvides, on Tuesday European advocate-general Laura Kövesi, speaking before a committee of the European parliament, she said that in the future cases involving Cyprus were expected to be so high that they may reach 10 per cent of the approximately 3,000 cases she expects her office to deal with each year. Savvides said this estimate contradicted the general assumption that in previous years the cases concerning Cyprus covered by the scope of the regulation were minimal.
Kövesi was quoted by the euobserver website as saying: “That is a lot of work and this is the reason why we need to have full-time prosecutors there in Cyprus.”
But the Cypriot AG said in a written statement that her comments did not “appear to be consistent with the information we have in our possession”.
He said an investigation carried out by the legal service with the competent police authorities in 2019, which was sent to Kövesi, and which covers the period from 2016 to 2019, the number of criminal acts which were examined by the Cypriot authorities which would fall into the category of offences investigated by the EPPO never exceeded four cases per year.
“In view of this large discrepancy in the [Kövesi] assessment, in my letters to both the European Commissioner for Justice and the European advocate-general, I reiterated these findings and asked Ms Kövesi to provide me with the information on which on which her conclusion yesterday was based,” the AG added.
Much of Kövesi statements were focused on the slowness at which member states were getting around to appointing prosecutors who will be tasked with carrying out the investigations in their home countries. The EPPO is due to become fully operational on March 1.
According to euobserver, the plan is to have at least 140 such prosecutors. But as of January 6 this year, only nine are up and running. Only Estonia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Slovakia out of the 22 participating member states have so far selected their delegated prosecutors, the news outlet said.
Savvides said in his statement that Cyprus has been an ardent supporter of the establishment of the EPPO from the very beginning and for this reason has chosen to participate, on its own initiative, in the institution, which aims to handle criminal acts that harm the financial interests of the European Union, he said.
“The Legal Service of the Republic took all the necessary measures in order to be able to implement the regulation. Cyprus nominated a representative to the College of European Prosecutors, prepared a relevant implementing bill of the Rules of Procedure that was passed into law by the House of Representatives and the legal service is ready to proceed to suggest the names of its Cypriot officials,” he added.
Savvides said he is constant contact with the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, and has repeatedly informed Kövesi about the positions of the legal service, which are fully in line with the provisions of the Rules of Procedure, as well as the legislation passed by the Cypriot parliament.