Launched at Europol, Operation Sentinel will contribute to a concerted response to an expected fraud wave.

A new EU-wide operation will target fraud against COVID-19 EU recovery funds being offered under the framework of the NextGenerationEU initiative. Operation Sentinel, launched on 15 October 2021 at Europol’s headquarters, involves the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), Eurojust, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and 19 EU Member States*.

The activities will run for at least a year and will focus on proactive intelligence sharing, information exchange and supporting the coordination of operations to tackle fraud against COVID-19 EU recovery funds. 

Europol’s Executive Director Catherine de Bolle said: ”The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected our social and economic structures globally. NextGenerationEU, part of the largest stimulus package released in the European Union, will support Member States adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

”Preventing serious cross-border crime is at the heart of Europol’s mandate, and we are fully committed to supporting the Member States in fighting any attempt by organised crime to infiltrate the EU legal economy and the NextGenerationEU fund. Our message is clear: any threat to the NextGenerationEU is a direct threat to the financial well-being of the European Union and its people. Operation Sentinel will strengthen our joint response to fraud and protect the reconstruction of our communities.”

Ensuring the €806.9 billion fund is directed towards resilience

Through NextGenerationEU, the European Union will release a total of € 806.9** billion to support EU Member States in repairing the negative economic and social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The larger part of this funding, equivalent to € 723.8 billion, will be released in loans and grants to support investments focused on greener, more sustainable and more resilient societies.

Recent experience from the evolution of the criminal landscape during the COVID-19 pandemic suggests these efforts will attract criminal groups active in the European Union and beyond. Criminals have shown themselves to be quick in adapting to the pandemic and its impact, and they are using every opportunity to maximise illegal profits.

Therefore, Europol has set up Operation Sentinel to anticipate the expected wave of fraud against these recovery funds. For this purpose, Europol will establish a dedicated internal mechanism to process operational data, steer information exchanges and support ongoing cases. The joint activities will target fraud, as well as tax evasion, excise fraud, corruption, embezzlement, misappropriation and money laundering.

Four EU entities and authorities from 19 EU Member States have joined forces as part of Operation Sentinel to ensure the recovery funds are directed towards strengthening our economies and the resilience of our communities.