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Decision on the European Commission’s decision to recover from a partner in an EU-funded programme funds that were withheld by a bank (case 383/2020/SF)

Trešdiena | 29 marts 2023

The case concerned the European Commission’s decision to recover over EUR 420 000 in unused funds from a consultancy that carried out an EU-funded programme on justice reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The EU funds had been deposited in a local bank, which subsequently became insolvent.

The consultancy argued that the Commission had no right to hold it liable for the unused funds that had become unavailable because of the bank’s insolvency. Furthermore, it considered that it had not been given the opportunity to express its views during the audit and recovery procedures and that it had not acted negligently.

The Commission argued that the consultancy had been given the opportunity to express its views but did not provide comments. The Commission further considered that the complainant should take legal action against the bank to get the funds released as part of the liquidation procedure.

The Ombudsman opened an inquiry into whether the Commission’s decision to recover the unavailable funds from the complainant was reasonable. She was not satisfied that the Commission had acted in accordance with the principles of good administration and proposed as a solution that it reconsider its decision that the complainant bear the risk for the insolvency of the local bank in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Commission did not agree with the Ombudsman’s assessment but stated that, in accordance with the principle of proportionality, it was ready to give the complainant a new opportunity to provide information that might allow the Commission to open an amicable settlement aimed at partially sharing the economic burden of the lost funds.

The Ombudsman welcomes the Commission’s willingness to look into an amicable solution with a view to sharing the burden of the loss of the funds with the complainant. She considers that the complainant has provided the necessary information.

Thus, the Ombudsman closed the case as further inquiries would not result in a more satisfactory outcome for the complainant. To try to avoid similar situations arising in future, she made three suggestions for improvement.