Italian Police Targets EU Fund Fraud, Seize Millions in Transhumance Scam

Italian Financial police say they have dismantled on Tuesday a criminal syndicate whose members were stealing millions of euros by falsely claiming the ownership of non-existent pastures and then applying for grants from the European Union for agricultural development.

Italy DolomitesThe practice of “Transhumance” has shaped the South Italian regions, influencing village formation and their social and economic fabric for centuries. (Photo: Diana Robinson, Flickr, License)Officers targeted 75 individuals, conducted 16 searches in several regions of Italy, seizing items relevant to the two-years-long probe that led investigators to believe that a criminal group with ties to the Mafia is misusing national and EU public funds.

The illicit activities allegedly revolved around fraudulent claims for grants from the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) within the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) sector.

As stated by Italian authorities, the criminal syndicate operated since 2014, and allegedly forged papers to prove they were allowed to use municipal land for agricultural production which would make them eligible to apply for EU funds meant for agricultural development.

According to the investigators, the fictitious agricultural start-up enterprises would have conspired with an equal number of agricultural cooperatives or temporary business associations that were formed to acquire thousands of hectares of land whose allocation for civic use was put up for bidding by municipalities.

Financial investigators believe the overall fraudulent sum to be approximately five million euros (5,250,425.00 US$).

The Maxi-Operation “Transumanza” (Transhumance) — a form of pastoralism involving seasonal livestock migration in the Mediterranean and Alps — was carried out by the Pescara branch of the Italian Financial Police, under the coordination of the L'Aquila Prosecutor's Office's Anti-Mafia District Directorate (D.D.A.).

The operation was carried out in the regions of Abruzzo, Puglia, Trentino Alto Adige, Piemonte, Lombardia, Veneto, Liguria, Emilia Romagna, Lazio and Campania.

Additionally, officials believe that the “Mafia Foggiana” — Mafia from Foggia, in South Italy — is also involved in the scheme.

During the investigation, officials intercepted over 100,000 conversations, checked more than 8,000 documents and over 270 bank accounts.