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Twenty EU countries to set up prosecutor for cross-border fraud

European Union flags flutter outside the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, Germany, April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Twenty European Union countries agreed on Thursday to set up an EU-wide prosecution service to investigate and bring to court cases involving misuse of EU funds or large-scale VAT fraud.

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) will be based in Luxembourg and take on cross-border cases that national prosecutors alone often find difficult to track. It is envisaged it will not be operational for another three years.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said last month that the EPPO should also be tasked with prosecuting cross-border terrorism.

“This office is 20 years in the making and while it is still not a European FBI, this is an important step nonetheless,” anti-corruption campaigners Transparency International said in a statement.

The prosecutor’s reach will initially be limited to the 20 EU member states that signed an agreement on Thursday, though others may join at a later stage.

The countries which have not signed up are Malta, Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark and Britain, which is negotiating its exit from the bloc.

Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Alison Williams