The European Public Prosecutor’s Office at a glance

12 Ottobre 2021
Thanks to Eleonora Vita and Mate Aleric for collaborating on this article

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (“EPPO”) is an independent body of the European Union established under Council Regulation (EU) 2017/1939 of 12 October 2017 (“Regulation”) to combat crimes affecting the European Union’s financial interests. It became fully operational on June 1, 2021, and, according to its website, since then users have filed more than 1,700 crime reports and the office has opened 300 investigations, covering an estimated EUR 4.5 billion in harm to the EU budget.

Below is a FAQ on the EPPO’s structure, powers, and implementation in Italy.

Did all European Member States join the EPPO?

The creation of the EPPO has been underway for almost 25 years. Following failure to adopt the proposed Regulation on the EPPO unanimously (2017/1939), on April 3, 2017, a group of 16 Member States notified the European Parliament, the Council, and the Commission of their intention to establish the EPPO through enhanced cooperation. Currently, not all EU Member States are cooperating in and supporting the EPPO. Hungary, Poland, and Sweden have not joined, and Denmark and Ireland have an opt-out from the area of freedom, security, and justice (AFSJ).

How is the EPPO structured?

The EPPO is divided into two levels: the central level and the national level.

The central level is run by the European chief prosecutor and 22 European prosecutors (one per participating Member State) in Luxembourg. This body is known as the College of Prosecutors. The chief prosecutor and two chosen deputies develop strategy and set the agenda. The College of Prosecutors as a unit adopts internal rules of procedure, ensuring consistency and coherence. Additionally, 15 permanent chambers have been established to monitor and direct investigations and prosecutions conducted in the field. Each permanent chamber consists of a chairperson (i.e., the chief prosecutor, a deputy, or a European delegated prosecutor) and two European delegated prosecutors as permanent members.

At the national level there are 22 European delegated prosecutors (EDPs), who conduct investigations and bring prosecutions before the national courts. EDPs are completely independent of the national authorities and their activities are monitored by permanent chambers responsible for operational decisions, such as referring a case to national authorities or dismissing it.

 What crimes does the EPPO handle?

The EPPO protects the EU’s financial interests through criminal law. It has jurisdiction over the crimes listed in Directive 2017/1371 (the “PIF Directive”) and any other illegal activity that is “inextricably linked” to an offense against the EU budget. This means that the EPPO is responsible for investigating and prosecuting a wide range of criminal offenses, including:

  • Value added tax fraud with total damages of at least EUR 10,000,000;
  • fraud involving EU expenditures and revenue;
  • bribes and corruption that harm the EU’s financial interests;
  • misappropriation of EU funds by public officials:
  • money laundering and any other activity inextricably linked to an offense against the EU budget.

Additionally, given the EPPO’s area of jurisdiction, the European Commission has assigned the EPPO to oversee implementation of the EUR 750 billion Covid relief plan established to help EU countries recover from the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The EPPO has jurisdiction over i) crimes committed within one or more participating EU Member States; ii) offenses committed by a national of a participating country; and iii) offenses committed outside participating Member States by an EU official or public servant.

How are crimes reported to the EPPO?

The appropriate national authorities must inform the EPPO of any event that may constitute an offense under its mandate. In addition, anyone (EU citizen, non-EU citizen, private individual, or legal entity) can report a crime to the EPPO via its “Report Crime” web form. The EPPO can also proactively gather information from other sources, such as news reports, to initiate investigations.

Once a crime is identified, the EPPO can conduct investigations and collect both incriminating and exculpatory evidence with the support of the appropriate national authorities and serve as the public prosecutor before the relevant courts in individual Member States until a final decision is rendered.

Can the EPPO prosecute legal entities?

There is no prohibition against the EPPO investigating legal entities in connection with criminal offenses committed by individuals. Indeed, a number of the Regulation’s provisions confirm that a company may be involved in an EPPO investigation. The actual prosecution of corporations, however, depends on the nature and extent of the corporate criminal liability system in participating Member States and how that intersects with the offenses the EPPO has authority to prosecute.

How is Italy implementing the Regulation?

Italy plays a significant role in EPPO organizations. Italian magistrate Danilo Ceccarelli is deputy chief European public prosecutor, and Italy has appointed 15 EDPs, more than any other Member State.

Legislative Decree no. 9/2021 adapted the Italian legal system to the Regulation by i) introducing and regulating the figure of the EDP in our judicial system and ii) adjusting the mechanism for reporting and annotation of notices of criminal offenses that fall under the jurisdiction of the EPPO. Specifically, that decree provides that all complaints received by Italian public authorities in relation to offenses relevant to the EPPO must be sent to the national public prosecutor and to an EDP.

According to public sources, approximately 10 proceedings have already been initiated in Italy, requiring the EPPO to work with the Italian police forces to execute asset seizures.

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