Stifling bureaucracy is often blamed for discouraging scientists and businesses from participating in the research programmes of the European Commission (EC). But the commission's notoriously cumbersome procedures and rigid control mechanisms have apparently not prevented a criminal syndicate from conducting a brazen fraud that has siphoned off millions in EC grant funds.
Italian authorities and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) in Brussels, Belgium, have confirmed that they are prosecuting members of a large network accused of pocketing more than €50 million (US$72 million) in EC grants for fake research projects. In Milan, Italy, the Finance Police last month charged several individuals in relation to the fraud. In Brussels, meanwhile, the EC has terminated four collaborative projects in information technology, and excluded more than 30 grant-winners from participation in around 20 ongoing projects. Investigations are still under way in the United Kingdom, France, Greece, Austria, Sweden, Slovenia and Poland.