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23rd Sep 2019

Dalligate: EU anti-fraud chief leaves MEPs confused

  • Kessler cited confidentiality rules: 'I can't give you the facts' (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

MEPs want more information on the Dalli affair after a damp squib hearing with the chief of the EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf.

German Liberal deputy Michael Theurer, the chairman of the budgetary control committee, told EUobserver on Thursday (25 October) that a behind-closed-doors meeting with Olaf's Giovanni Kessler failed to clear up if ex-health commissioner John Dalli acted wrongly or why a top Olaf official has suddenly resigned.

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He said parliament chiefs should ask European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to hand over the Olaf report or to come and answer questions himself.

"I think we have to put the question to the President of the commission and then I'm confident there can be found an appropriate way for the European Commission to inform parliament," he noted.

"We need to have a full insight into what happened. We could see the written report - that would be one thing - and if there is any evidence that we should investigate further, then there are different options ... parliament could set up an investigative committee," he added.

Dalli lost his job last week after Olaf gave Barroso what it calls "circumstantial evidence" that he tried to solicit a bribe from a tobacco firm.

In the latest twist in the story, Olaf supervisory board President Christian Timmermans this week resigned from his post. But it is unclear whether this is linked to institutional infighting or to the Dalli case as such.

A source present at the Kessler meeting told this website that he gave the MEPs hints on what the report contains but cited confidentiality rules to stop short of real answers.

The source noted: "He [Kessler] said: 'Imagine if I met my friend [a middleman] and some lobbyists in my flat. How would you feel about it?' But he phrased it in a very hypothetical way. We asked him: 'So what are the facts?' And he said: 'I can't give you the facts'."

Kessler also said Timmermans' resignation is linked to complaints that circulation of the Olaf report did not follow correct procedure. But he added that it "has nothing to do with Dalli."

For his part, EU parliament chief Martin Schulz is planning to send a letter to Barroso asking for more information.

Its content is to become clear after he meets with the heads of parliament political groups on Friday.

Asked by EUobserver whether Schulz' old political group, the centre-left S&D, would support a request for Barroso to answer MEPs' questions directly, an S&D spokeswoman said: "There must be a general clarification and it must come from Kessler and Barroso himself."

The last time Barroso faced a public grilling on corruption was back in 2005 over his own connections to a Greek shipowner.

On the commission side, spokesman Olivier Bailly on Thursday in Brussels noted that Malta, Dalli's home country, and the other 26 member states are "ready" to back his replacement by Maltese foreign minister Tonio Borg.

He said the member states' backing is a sign they "accept" that the commission has handled the affair properly.

Borg also has to get clearance from MEPs.

But with the health portfolio covering areas such as stem cell research and abortion, his Roman Catholic views could see him come a cropper in parliament hearings.

"We intend to question him closely on whether his views are compatible with Europe's fundamental values on civil liberties and non-discrimination," S&D chief, Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda said in a statement.

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