Five public officials, customs officers, were among eight people arrested in Malta in a European Public Prosecutor’s Office swoop on Monday, the EPPO said today.
The arrests came after an investigation into customs fraud and corruption led by the EPPO, which, in addition to the eight arrests, saw house searches carried out in several locations.
The raid dealt with a suspected fraudulent scheme to evade the payment of customs taxes and duties on the importation of clothing and other goods such as handbags and perfume, from China by under-declaring their value and weight.
It is alleged that this was done with the complicity of customs officials, who are believed to have been offered money in return for the under-declaring the Chinese imports.
The EPPO said that three of the suspects, representing two companies, are under investigation for orchestrating the scheme.
The crimes under investigation include customs fraud, corruption of public officials and money laundering. The damage to the EU budget is believed to run into millions of euros.
The eight people arrested on Monday have not been named, nor have the companies they worked for, and are understood to have been released on bail earlier today.
As part of the probe, the Financial Crimes Investigations Department carried out searches at several locations around Malta, including customs offices, residences of the suspects and registered addresses of the companies under investigation.
During the searches, three high-value vehicles and a considerable amount of cash, around €180 000. were seized.
The EPPO said in a statement this morning that measures have also been taken to block all funds and immovable property belonging to the concerned suspects.
In addition to the Malta Police Force and the FCID, the EPPO also called in the assistance of Malta’s Customs Enforcement Section and Malta’s Asset Recovery Bureau.
Last March the EPPO said it had opened 14 investigations into the suspected fraud of EU funds in Malta last year worth an estimated value of €123.5 million.
All 14 investigations were active at the end of last year. The EPPO does not make the details of the investigations it is conducting public but it does give general indications.
Three of the investigations concerning Malta are active VAT fraud cases that are alone worth €70.5 million, according to data in the EPPO’s annual report.
The EPPO said at the time that it had five ongoing expenditure investigations in Malta. Three of these deal with agricultural and rural development programmes, one with maritime and fisheries programmes, and another is related to mobility and transport, energy, and digitalisation programmes.
In addition, there were a total of 18 reports and complaints regarding Malta over 2022 – 14 from national authorities, two from EU institutions, one ex-officio and one from a private party.
The typologies of active EPPO cases regarding Malta include four distinctly related to corruption and to money laundering. Other typologies include six related to VAT revenue fraud, three to non-VAT revenue fraud, three related to non-procurement revenue fraud, two for procurement fraud, as well as one inextricably linked offence.