Suspicions of corruption with EU funds, Minister of Agriculture hides behind farmers

The Minister of Agriculture, Frida Krifca, defended at the Parliament the IPARD II Program, which she had led when she was the director of the agency which manages EU funds for agriculture, and told the opposition that accusations were an attack against the entire sector. Her reaction came as a result of the extreme measure taken by the EU to temporarily suspend reimbursement on corruption suspicions.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Frida Krifca defended at the Parliament’s plenary session on Thursday the IPARD II Program, telling the opposition that their accusations about abuses of EU funds were an attack against the agriculture sector as a whole.

“When you attack the Agency for Agricultural and Rural Development, you should know that you are attacking the farmers, you are the agro-processors, you are attacking a union of people who are trying hard and are believed to have jointly injected, together with the Agency for Agricultural and Rural Development in the co-financing of over 220 million euros in the last four years”, stated Krifca.

The debates over the suspicions of corruption with EU funds earmarked for Albanian agriculture began after the publication in the media of a decision from the European Commission to temporarily suspend reimbursement of expenses done for the IPARD II Program.

Frida Krifca was director of the Agency for Agricultural and Rural Development from July 2017 to September 2021, before being appointed as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. The EU’s investigation focuses on the period she directed this Agency, which coincides with the first phase of the program from 2014-2020.

Minister Krifca called the program an undisputed success and called the opposition to not make the investigation initiated by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), an object of political consumption in the daily agenda. Discussions began after the confirmation of the news that the European Commission has informed the Albanian government to have taken preliminary measures for the EU funds earmarked for agriculture, based on an OLAF investigation over corruption accusations related to the implementation of the IPARD II program.

“As a preventive measure for the protection of the European Union’s financial interests, the European Commission has temporarily suspended the reimbursement to Albanian authorities for the expanses conducted in the framework of the IPARD II Program”, elaborated for Amfora Media, the EU Office in Tirana.

Despite this extreme measure from the European Commission to suspend the reimbursement of funds, the Ministry of Agriculture relativized the issue declaring that such occasions have occurred in most of the countries where such a program is implemented.

“This office immediately moves as soon as there is a denouncement from any citizen who presents reasonable doubts about irregularities, frauds, corruption, and if we would refer to OLAF’s 4-year report for 2016-2020, out of 27 European Union member states, only two had no irregularities”, Krifca said from Parliament’s podium.

Meanwhile, the opposition accused her and the Albanian government that they have abused agricultural funds, going up to the verbal confrontation, on the limits of physical confrontation between MPs from the opposition and the majority.

The IPARD program aims at providing financial support for agriculture and rural development through EU funds, 75%, and funds from the Albanian government, 25%.

The first phase of the IPARD II program was implemented in 2014-2020 and allocated Albania over 71 million euros, while the next phase of the IPARD III program is expected to increase the financial support to 146 million euros.

“OLAF’s investigation is ongoing. When OLAF is going to submit the final report, the European Commission will inform the Albanian authorities and based on the findings of the report, it will take any further necessary measures to protect the financial interest of the European Union”, the EU Office in Tirana had informed earlier.

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