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Hungary picks PwC partner to lead new anti-graft body overseeing EU funds

FILE PHOTO: Hungary's parliament convenes for autumn session, in Budapest

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's State Audit Office has picked PricewaterhouseCoopers forensic partner Ferenc Biro to lead a new anti-graft body to be launched by mid-November as part of efforts to regain access to European Union funds locked up over corruption risks.

Nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government has been locked in battles with Brussels over corruption, migration, LGBTQ rights and democratic standards.

In September, the EU executive recommended suspending some 7.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion) in funding for Hungary over corruption, the first such case in the 27-nation bloc under a new sanction meant to better protect the rule of law.

With inflation running at two-decade highs and the economy headed for a sharp slowdown due to fallout from the war in neighouring Ukraine, Hungary needs the funds to stave off recession and stabilise its indebted economy.

State Audit Office Chairman Laszlo Windisch has picked Biro, whose application received the highest score and was also endorsed by a committee screening applicants for the role, part of 17 commitments made by Hungary to unlock EU funding.

Biro, a partner at PwC since September 2020, has experience in preventive, detective and compliance tasks based on his LinkedIn profile, with clients including high net worth individuals and major law firms.

Biro has also worked at Ernst & Young, where he built up and led a fraud detection and prevention team for more than 13 years. Hungarian President Katalin Novak is due to appoint the new leaders of the Integrity Authority on Friday.

The body, to be launched by Nov. 19, will be tasked with reinforcing the prevention, detection and correction of fraud, conflicts of interest and corruption.

The Authority and members of its board must be fully independent. It will have extensive powers such as instructing contracting authorities to suspend a procurement procedure and requesting probes.

($1 = 1.0229 euros)

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Mark Potter)