The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) said that it is recommending that Bulgaria return 6 million euro ($7.2 million) of EU grants and considers launching criminal proceedings against interior ministry officials.
Bulgaria's interior ministry has breached the terms of its grant agreement by using EU money to buy SUVs from older stocks instead of new all-terrain police cars, according to a recently closed investigation, OLAF said in a statement on Monday.
"OLAF also concluded that there were grounds to believe that a criminal act (abuse of power under the Bulgarian Penal Code) affecting the financial interests of the EU could have been committed by officials of the Ministry," the statement reads.
It is now up to the Bulgarian Prosecutors’ Office to decide whether to open a criminal investigation for abuse of power to the benefit of a third party.
"Manipulated tenders allowing potential fraudsters to line their own pockets at the expense of citizens is a typical fraud pattern seen by OLAF’s investigators all too often. It is all the more worrying when such a vital public service as the police could have been the victim of this sort of activity, and I urge the Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office to give proper consideration to our recommendation of legal action," Ville Itala, OLAF Director-General, said.
"This would send a clear message that nobody is above the law and that OLAF and its partners across Europe will continue to work tirelessly to protect European taxpayers’ money," Ville Itala added.