30th Mar 2023

OLAF hits back at critics over handling of Stern case

The EU anti-fraud office OLAF on Wednesday hit out at criticism that it treated a Brussels-based investigative journalist unfairly.

The police enquiry into the German journalist from Stern magazine, which came about due to information from OLAF, led to him being held for hours by police and his documents being confiscated.

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  • OLAF said that new evidence it obtained last January led it to pass on the information to the Belgian authorities (Photo: OLAF)

Answering questions by MEPs from the Budgetary Control Committee on the affair, Peter Baader from the Investigations and Operations department in OLAF, said that the EU anti-fraud office has been "extremely cautious, professional and impartial when dealing with this issue".

"All people dealing with the investigation have not done any harm or injustice to anyone", he added.

The investigation relates to suspicions that EU officials were paid to leak confidential OLAF documents which later appeared in articles by German journalist Hans-Martin Tillack, who has in recent years exposed various fraud and irregularities in EU institutions.

The articles concerned alleged irregularities in the European institutions that had been raised by an EU official and whistleblower, Paul van Buitenen.

The raid by the police was conducted after OLAF passed on information to the Belgian authorities.

Authorities in other EU states informed

OLAF revealed on Wednesday that information about this case was passed on to the authorities in other member states as well.

Yet, Mr Baader produced no evidence that payment was given in exchange of the information, and said that no legal action has yet been taken against civil servants who might have passed on the confidential documents to the journalist.

He added that any staff members who are identified will "have very little time to laugh".

New evidence

Mr Baader said that articles that appeared in Stern early 2002 indicated that the magazine had exclusive possession of confidential OLAF documents which were not passed on to the OLAF supervisory committee or to Budget Commissioner Michaele Schreyer.

He also said that in January this year, OLAF got hold of new evidence "which changed the whole situation" and required it to submit the case file to the Belgian authorities.

OLAF has come under fire over its handling of this case and has been accused of trying to undermine press freedom and creating hostility between EU officials and journalists.

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