Europe

Italy earthquake: L'Aquila EU relief funds 'misused'

Damaged buildings in L’Aquila, 2013
Image caption The centre of L'Aquila still lies in ruins

A draft report has criticised what it calls the misuse of EU funds intended to help rebuild the Italian city of L'Aquila after an earthquake.

The EU released 494m euros (£418m; $667m) from its Solidarity Fund after the devastating quake in 2009.

A European Parliament rapporteur, Soren Bo Sondergaard, found allegations that some money went to contractors with links to organised crime.

However, the European Commission rejected Mr Sondergaard's findings.

More than 300 people were killed in the quake and some 10,000 buildings damaged in L'Aquila and the Abruzzo region.

In his draft report, Mr Sondergaard said there were serious allegations that part of the money spent on building new accommodation for the quake's victims was paid to companies with "direct or indirect ties" to organised crime.

He also criticised as dangerous and unhealthy some of the new accommodation built in the town.

"Wanted criminals" were found at a factory run by one of the contractors, he added.

'Confusing' report

Much of the rapporteur's criticism is directed at the European Commission in Brussels, says the BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome.

Image caption Damaged buildings are being propped up by steel supports

Mr Sondergaard said it should have been much more diligent in its efforts to ensure that EU taxpayers' money was better spent.

The European Commission responded by accusing Mr Sondergaard, a Danish MEP, of creating confusion by "mixing observations on the general development of the reconstruction in L'Aquila with aspects related to the use of the EU Solidarity Fund grant".

Defending the size of the funds released, the Commission insisted their use had been "monitored carefully".

"The Commission rejects allegations that it had closed its eyes to misuse of EU funds," it said.

"On the contrary, non-respect of public procurement rules was discovered through the Commission's own audit of the use of the Solidarity Fund in Abruzzo and relevant EU funding was declared ineligible."

There have been building projects on the town's outskirts to house victims of the quake, but reconstruction has barely begun in the town, our correspondent says.

The historic centre of L'Aquila is a ghost town. Its squares and alleyways are deserted, while damaged medieval buildings are being propped up on steel supports, he adds.

Mr Sondergaard's report is also scathing about the cost and the quality of some of the new accommodation.

Dozens of families had to be evacuated because their homes were "dangerous and unhealthy", it says.

One accommodation area caught fire because of a faulty electrical system and there have been problems with sewers, water pipes and cracking walls.

Regarding the quality of houses, Massimo Cialente, mayor of L'Aquila, told the BBC: "Some of the houses built have never-ending issues and we spend lots of money repairing them."

But on the subject of whether funds were misused, Mr Cialente said: "I am inclined to exclude the possibility."

"There was lots of attention from judges and anti-mafia prosecutors to prevent this from happening. We will have to wait for the court documents."

Just three months after the earthquake struck, Italy's then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi held a Group of Eight (G8) world powers summit in L'Aquila, having switched the summit venue in what he said was an effort to draw attention to the plight of local residents.

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