EC delegates say Romanian officials stole children's aid

BUCHAREST, Jun 15, 2000 -- (AFP) A European delegation charged Wednesday that Romanian officials have stolen aid for malnourished children, including stocks of honey, biscuits and chocolate donated to those most in need.

Representatives from the European Commission (EC) said here that they would complain to the European Union's anti-fraud watchdog OLAF after finding many children suffering from malnutrition at a center in Bucharest.

The center had been given enough aid last November to last nine months.

"There is no reason for these children to be undernourished, unless the aid was hijacked," the EC delegation said in a statement.

Warning that the EC will not tolerate fraud, the text said the delegation "will submit all the information it has on this affair to Romanian judicial officials and OLAF".

The group also said that it had noted in February "diminished or depleted stocks of honey, candy, biscuits and chocolate" that it had supplied to the center, and had immediately notified the Romanian authorities concerned.

"To date, we have received no response to our letter," it said.

The European Union has made improving conditions for Romania's roughly 147,000 homeless children a top priority in considering Bucharest's bid to join the union.

In September, European officials launched a program designed to help the children, earmarking 39 million euros (37 million dollars) to be distributed in two trances.

Fourteen million euros were allotted to 157 of the most impoverished centers for homeless children, as EU official Fokion Fotiadis warned Romanian authorities not to let the aid be stolen.

Original article