A while ago, I discussed Republican Senator Tom Coburn’s NSF snipe hunt. Well, the EU has a doozy of an actual research-related scandal:
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….
The fraud has been conducted in a “highly sophisticated manner, resembling money laundering”, by means of a cross-border network of fictitious companies and subcontractors, says Pavel Bořkovec, a spokesman for OLAF. Several project coordinators stand accused of having claimed inflated costs, or expenses for non-existent research activities and services, he says.
“The projects were apparently organized with the sole intention to deceive the commission and its control mechanisms,” says Boublil. To make them seem legitimate, grant applications included the names of real scientists, established research institutes and existing companies, he says. But in most cases the alleged project partners were included without their knowing.
Insiders in Brussels say that rare cases of minor financial dishonesty, from inflated invoices to smaller cases of embezzlement, are regarded as unavoidable in large collaborative research projects. But the commission does extensive checks on project partners, including companies, which are meant to catch large-scale fraud. The success of the fraud suggests that those involved were unusually familiar with weaknesses in the EC’s procedures, and adept at forging legal documents.
That is fraud. Not the NSF.