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EU Prosecutors Investigate Fraud in Romanian Tugboat Purchase Funded by EU

Romanian tugboats
Investigation centers on the tender for new tugs funded by the EU that prosecutors believe was written to exclude bidders (AFDJ file photo)

Published Mar 27, 2024 5:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office reported it conducted searches at the offices and homes of officials in Romania as it is investigating a bid-rigging scheme. At issue is a suspected fraud relating to the procurement of two tugboats for the Lower Danube Delta with the scheme costing the EU an estimated €7 million.

A total of 12 searches were conducted today against officials of the Administration of the Gala?i Lower Danube River Administration (Administratia Fluvial? a Dun?rii de Jos Galati – AFDJ) and the Romanian Naval Authority (Autoritatea Naval? Român? – ANR). AFDJ Galati functions as the waterways authority on the Romanian sector of the Danube from the border and along the river to the Black Sea. They also manage the Sulina arm as the navigable arms of the Danube, Borcea, Bala, and Macin rivers.

The prosecutors report they were searching for information across a series of locations. This included three public offices, two private companies, and the homes of public officials working for the institutions under investigation.

According to the evidence gathered in this investigation so far, public officials of the AFDJ Gala?i, in their capacity as its representatives, obtained EU funding from the Large Infrastructure Operational Programme for the purchase of two multi-purpose tugboats. This was the result of a public procurement contract launched in September 2019, its total value was approximately €7 million.

It is alleged that the public officials submitted inaccurate documents to finance the project. Although the tugs were solely intended for river navigation, the suspects drew up the tendering specifications based on the more restrictive technical characteristics and construction requirements specific to seagoing vessels. 

As a result, the prosecutors allege the type of vessels falling within the criteria of the tender specifications was very limited. This prevented other economic operators from participating in the tendering process and ultimately favored one applicant. 

Following the finalization of the contract with the supplier company, the two tugboats were delivered in July 2021 with a higher nautical draft than originally provided for in the tender specifications and the purchase contract. This made them exclusively suited for the Maritime Danube, where the depth of the water permits navigation with a higher draft – therefore rendering the two boats unusable for river navigation, because they could not transit through the full reservoirs of the Danube River sector. 

The EPPO is the independent public prosecution office of the European Union. It?is responsible for investigating, prosecuting, and bringing to judgment crimes against the financial interests of the EU.?