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EU uncovers fraud, fake research projects

According to an online article published by the UK journal Nature on 14 June 2011, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and Italian authorities “have confirmed that they are prosecuting members of a large network accused of pocketing more than EUR 50 million… in EC grants for fake research projects”. Nature reports that four approved projects in the field of information technology have been terminated and 30 grant winners have been “excluded” from participating in another 20 projects currently underway.

The case, which apparently features a sophisticated level of fraud “resembling money laundering”, has been taken very seriously by those closely connected to research policy and programming within the European Commission. For example, in the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, training and awareness-raising sessions for project officers are being fine-tuned. Guidelines for evaluation, negotiation and payment processes are being updated, and IT systems refined. Other prevention measures include Commission outreach to inform key stakeholders in the research community about fraud concerns, and efforts to simplify and clarify the legal framework for research activities.

Legitimate researchers in Europe are obviously dismayed with this kind of ’bad press’ in general. However, instances of fraud, particularly of this scale, are especially disheartening to those who are eager to see less in the way of ‘red tape’ when it comes to European-level research funding and oversight (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, May 2010).