October 26, 2015 / 2:31 PM / 4 years ago

EU, World Bank urge Romania to step up efforts to recover graft money

BUCHAREST, Oct 26 (Reuters) - The European Commission and the World Bank urged Romania on Monday to push ahead in its anti-corruption crackdown by recovering stolen assets following court convictions.

Corruption in Romania has deterred foreign investors, while tax evasion and bribery put a further strain on the public finances.

Anti-corruption prosecutors have launched investigations against some of the most powerful and well-connected people in the country right up to Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

Last year they secured a record 1,138 convictions, and courts have mandated the recovery of roughly 310 million euros ($341 million). But attempts to recover the damages have faltered and the tax collection authority ANAF has complained of insufficient resources.

The government has said it plans to set up a dedicated asset-recovery unit.

“Romania has made tremendous progress in recent years,” Ismail Radwan, lead public sector management specialist at the World Bank, told a foreign investment conference.

“Now we need to get together all ... authorities and we need to confiscate and recover stolen assets. At the moment you don’t have an institution in charge of this.”

Angela Filote, head of the European Commission’s local office, told the conference that asset recovery was one way for Romania to generate more funds for public investment as opposed to running higher budget deficits.

“Examples of untapped potential for freeing funds for investment include ... using EU structural funds, improved tax collection and asset recovery,” Filote said.

Data collected by Reuters from hundreds of prosecutors’ statements about investigations opened in 2014 suggest corruption may have cost the state, the private sector and private citizens 1.022 billion euros in those cases.

The losses arose from alleged tax evasion, overpriced public works deals awarded without tenders, bribes, fraudulent handling of EU development funds and subsidies. Some of the investigations and trials are still underway. ($1 = 0.9086 euros) (Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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