Don't Blame Austerity: Five "Dastardly" Ways Italy Burned Through Taxpayer Money

It took years (after our initial report in 2011) but finally the Greeks realized that the main reason the Troika had been fleecing them all along, is that of the €227 billion in bailout funds disbursed to Greece, the amount that actually reached the Greek population was... 11%. The rest went back to repaying Greek creditors in some form.


This is another way of explaining why while the PIIGS countries raged against "evil austerity", their debt load as a percentage of GDP was consistently rising year after year, and has hid new all time highs as of the most recent reading.


So what was really going in Europe over the past 5 years, if the debt load kept creeping higher, and yet little money was actually making its way to the broader population?

The answer is simple: abuse of taxpayer funding, also known as fraud and corruption. And while it may come as a surprise, more European tax money has been lost to fraud in Italy than in any other European country, Greece included (perhaps because most of the free cash was already earmarked for creditor repayment).

As Italy's TheLocal reports, the EU anti-fraud office, Italy currently has 61 open investigations into fraud involving EU funds. This means Italy has the second highest number of investigations in the EU, ranking just below Greece's neighbor to the north, Bulgaria.

As the Local reports, fraud with EU money is commonplace in Italy, but is far from an Italian-only phenomenon. Here is a list of some of the most dastardly, or as the Italian outlet pegs it "insane" cons pulled by Italians with EU money.

1) Digitaleco's dodgy DVDs

From 1998 to 2005 a fake company known as Digitaleco received over €3 million in EU funding to produce DVDs. However, by 2005 the company plant was still missing a roof and was not connected to a waste system. Still, it had mysteriously been certified as completed by regional officials in Calabria.

Strangely, regional authorities in Calabria made no attempts to recoup the money and subsequent raids across the country implicated a former public official in Calabria, the treasurer of the Catholic UDC party and a fundraiser for Silvio Berlusoni's Forza Italia party in the scandal...

2) A lift to nowhere

Over €2 million of EU taxpayers hard-earned cash was used to build a lift in the small Italian town of Sutera, Sicily. The lift was finished in 2012, but has never been used as the costs of running the lift were too expensive for the small town.

Now it is feared that much of the budget may have ended up lining the pockets of local mafiosi...

3) Clean electricity? Clean money!

Italy's poorer south is a prime target for EU development funds: unfortunately it is also the nerve centre of the global mafia. Between 2007 and? 2013 the EU structural fund granted €350 million to Sicily - money local mafia were looking to get a slice of.

Vito Nicastri used some of these funds to build up a huge empire of renewable energy on Sicily that was used as a front for the Mafia, which is suspected to have used green businesses to launder illegally earned money.

Nicastri had over €1.2 billion euros worth of assets seized by anti-mafia police in April 2014.

4) Crime Doesn't Pay

It's not always the case that EU funds disappear in Italy - at least not forever. In 2012, Italy was ordered to repay the EU a whopping €420 million after anti-fraud investigators found evidence of foul play in the way EU funds had been used to rebuild the A3 Motorway between Salerno and Reggio Calabria.

The A3 is symbolic of the challenges Italy faces in its war on corruption. The project has been dogged by repeated scandals. In May this year, Italian Premier Matteo Renzi declared that the motorway would be finished within a year. Construction began in 1966 - so watch this space!

5) Rocket Man goes to Napoli
But that's not the only time the EU has asked Italy for a refund. In 2009 the regional of Naples was forced to pony up the EU dough it had spent on an Elton John concert.
Following a Brussels led investigation, Naples was ordered to repay the €720,000 of the regional development fund it had splashed out on the gig.

EU officials stated that the money should have been used for longer term cultural projects.

When It comes to Italy and EU money, sorry often seems to be the hardest word.

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So, dear PIIGS citizens, while we understand you are angry that so little of the taxpayer funds meant for you reached the general public, please don't blame it on austerity - the truth is what is taking place in Europe has little to do with actual belt-tightening or spending cuts as the record (in both absolute and relative terms) debt load across Europe shows, and everything to do with your corrupt politicians and crony capitalists abusing what little funds were destined to improve your living standards.

And if you do want to blame someone, blame your corrupt politicians: it is they who sold you all out, with or without Goldman's debt-masking FX swaps (which the ECB still refuses to probe as they will reveal Mario Draghi's direct responsibility for the imminent Greek default).