AFP, published on Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 22:25
The director of the chamber of agriculture of Corse-du-Sud and five relatives are summoned in April before the court of Ajaccio, suspected of fraud to European aid for 1.4 million euros, an emblematic record of investigations conducted on this sensitive subject on the Island of Beauty.
The administrative head, his wife, his two sons, his mother of 86 years, and a farm worker will be judged on April 7, 2020 for "organized gang scam and laundering organized gang," said Thursday to AFP Eric Bouillard, public prosecutor of Ajaccio. They incur a maximum of 10 years in prison.
The "central role" of the director of the Chamber of Agriculture, also responsible for the Departmental Establishment of Livestock (EDE) "responsible for the control of aid", "is proven", said at a press conference the prosecutor. He was placed under judicial supervision with the prohibition to perform his duties until trial.
"These key positions explain the fine knowledge that fraudsters could have of the regulations in force," said the magistrate.
The head of administration challenges the allegations against him, said the prosecutor, and ensures "that everything is fully in line with regulations."
"His defense will demonstrate that the prosecution of which he is the subject is unfounded," said Camille Romani, lawyer of the director, regretting that "no investigation" has been "carried out" through the designation of "an investigating judge". He also accused the prefect of Corsica of having "played a leading role" in the preliminary investigation of the prosecution and to have "instrumentalized local justice".
The investigation was opened after a control of the departmental anti-fraud committee (Codaf) co-chaired by the Ajaccio public prosecutor and the prefect in the four family farms in Letia (Southern Corsica). This family received "just over 400,000 euros of European aid every year, in the form of bonuses to the surface and premiums for suckler cows" for 600 hectares and 530 cows declared, had said the prosecutor in November 2018.
A fifth exploitation was associated with this file, the investigators estimating that the manager was in fact a farm worker of the family. "These five farms are actually one," according to the prosecutor: this "fictional division" has allowed to "pass through administrative controls" by moving the livestock from one farm to another depending on announced inspections and "increase the aid" received, explained Mr. Bouillard Thursday.
– Four other investigations in Corsica –
The survey revealed an overvaluation of the herd of "at least 50%" with less than 250 cows "identified" in reality, according to the prosecutor.
In addition, the magistrate pointed out, "mass births of animals in July" were noted, just "before the reporting period", and "in February-March, an extraordinary mortality just before the controls", all no veterinary fees for births and no rendering fees for deaths.
The declared number of hectares was also "inflated", noted Mr. Bouillard, who estimated the damage to 1.4 million euros over the last three fiscal years.
The prosecutor's office made requests for seizures of criminal assets on property belonging to the family, aiming "investments in real estate projects in the region of Cargese, Sagone and Ajaccio".
The investigation continues to see whether, as the head of the EDE, the main defendant would not have failed in his control functions for other applicants for aid, the prosecutor said.
Three other investigations in the area of Bonifacio, Gravone, around Ajaccio, and in the area of Alta Rocca, are underway for suspicion of fraud in South Corsica, added the prosecutor, indicating that one of them was aimed at an elected representative of the Chamber of Agriculture of Corse-du-Sud.
In Haute-Corse, an investigation for "fraud" and "criminal conspiracy to commit a crime" is also under way concerning the operations in Lucciana of four members of the family of a leader of the agricultural union FDSEA, said to the AFP the prosecutor of Bastia Caroline Tharot.
The survey aims to verify the "regularly perceived" part of the "760,000 euros of breastfeeding aid and decoupled aid" related to the surface, affected by these four people between 2015 and 2018, knowing that according to the first elements, it "There is one farmer, but the other three would not be," she said.
Nearly 650 inspections of the 2,150 Corsican holdings seeking European aid are also underway on the island to verify the compliance of these requests.