24th Nov 2020

EU anti-fraud chief defends role in Dalligate

  • Olaf chief Giovanni Kessler says some media reports into the Dalli case have been one-sided (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The director general of the EU’s anti-fraud agency, Olaf, has said public confidence in the office has increased despite allegations of wrongdoing in an investigation that led to the dismissal of EU commissioner John Dalli last October.

“After this case, more people are reporting to Olaf, also public authorities, so I think we have gained trust in the general public,” Olaf chief Giovanni Kessler told reporters in Brussels on Thursday (23 May).

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He cited an Olaf activity report, released the same day, which notes a 21 percent increase in volume of incoming information on possible infractions in 2012 when compared to 2011.

The agency opened 431 investigation cases in 2012. In 2011, it opened 147.

Kessler attributes the larger caseload to more efficient work methods, its quick response time and confidence among people in its capacity to deliver results.

“I’m telling you the trend of incoming information both from private and public sector increased even over the last year,” he said.

But the agency remains bogged down by the Dalli case.

The former Maltese health commissioner faces charges that he used a middleman in an attempt to solicit millions of euros from tobacco company Swedish Match in order to weaken EU tobacco laws.

Olaf has come under intense fire from a handful of MEPs who want answers on allegations of illegal wiretapping and on Kessler’s direct role in interviewing witnesses.

Kessler refuted allegations of any illegal conduct into the investigation.

He said the truth has been distorted and the claims reported in some media are “totally false and calumnious.”

He noted the supervisory committee - a body of five outside experts tasked to check if the agency is conducting its investigations properly - has never used the word “illegal” in any of its reports.

However, the committee's report did cite serious concerns and questioned the legal basis into some of Olaf’s investigative methods into Dalli's case.

It notes Olaf “does not seem to have conducted an analysis of the legal provisions of its investigators to gather evidence by way of recording private telephone conversations.”

Kessler said they did not wiretap anyone when pressed on the issue.

He said a witness in the case recorded the telephone conversations, once before the case had started and a second time in the presence of Olaf investigators.

“By the way, that second telephone call done in the presence of Olaf investigators has not been transcribed, has not been used as evidence for the reason that there was nothing and even if it was irregular, which we are confident it was not, it has had no impact on the investigation,” he said.

Kessler also dismissed claims the agency neglected to send the supervisory committee a final report prior to handing it over to Maltese national authorities.

The committee is entitled to review such reports to ensure fundamental rights have been respected.

“We sent this information to them, three days in advance. It is in our records, in our protocols,” he said.

The committee, for its part, says otherwise.

It notes that Olaf transmitted the final report to the Maltese national authorities before it had access to the case.

“This has prevented the supervisory committee from carrying out the examination of the respect for fundamental rights,” states the committee’s opinion.

A EU official close to the issue was unable to explain the discrepancy.

She noted the supervisory committee wants greater say and involvement into Olaf investigations.

Meanwhile, Kessler said he had no intention of resigning despite calls from some MEPs for him to step down over allegations he falsified the report on Dalli.

“If we falsified a report to frame a person, I don’t have to resign, I have to go to jail together with a dozen other people because it is a crime, but we didn’t [falsify the report],” he said.

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