The anti-fraud office in Brussels, or OLAF, and its Romanian counterpart, DIICOT, investigate an alleged 30 million Euro fraud from the EU’s agricultural SAPARD funds, committed by the German group Aton GmbH, in Fulda, Germany, along its Romanian business partners.
By Mircea Opriș in Timișoara, Romania
The funds drafted by Aton GmbH were supposed to revamp Romania’s agriculture.
Jurnalul National daily is in the possession of documents analyzed by OLAF, which prove that the company’s leadership was fully aware of the fraud the company was engaged in.
One such email, sent by a German business consultant to Andreas Ruhland of the internal investigation department at the Aton GmbH, reads: “As for the risk stemming from the SAPARD topic, one cannot quantify it, as there is no precedent for a company which drafted the funds to have changed its status later on … this is why I state that the maximum risk would be for us to be ordered to give back all the money received plus penalizing interest for the time we used it, and be removed from the programs we are still managing. I personally pointed that out to the Romanian companies at our first meeting with the E&Y … the main idea is that we, you and anyone who knows all these details must pay attention and be trustworthy. I hope I have been clear enough.”
The German side of the business tried to cover its tracks with placing blame on its Romanian partner, Nikolaus Mann, from Timis Country, for allegedly defrauding the company of 80 million Euro. DIICOT did not found yet facts to support this allegation, but names of Romanian politicians based in Timis County and Bucharest surfaced.
Sources close to OLAF said that seven German investors, four of whom are members of the intelligence services of the former German Bundes Republik, are behind the Aton GmbH.
They set up a network of agricultural companies in Romania which it used to defraud the SAPARD funds. They moved agricultural equipment and other goods from one of their companies to the next, in fake transactions, and later on they merged these companies with others owned by Aton GmbH, but which were not eligible to apply for the EU funding. Furthermore, they reported completing the programs for which they received the funds, but this was not matched with the reality on the ground.
This method allowed Aton GmbH to draft funds via nine projects opened under SAPARD, while the EU regulations allow for one company to manage only two such projects. It received 16 million Euro for four projects under Measure 1.1, and 2.5 million Euro for five projects under Measure 3.1. The EU regulations also forbid subsequent merger of companies benefiting from EU funds, as well as selling the goods it acquired for five years after purchase. The Aton GmbH infringed both these rules.
When the illegal operations became public, the German company recruited an army of lawyers, private investigators and journalists to engage in a media campaign targeting the Romanian partner as the main culprit.
Allegations of corruption also target the media. It is said that Aton GmbH payed one journalist 5,000 Euro to not go to print with his findings, while it gave 40,000 Euro as silence money to a journalist with the local edition of a Bucharest-based newspaper along a Timis County based lawyer.
Translated by AAP
Read documents attached