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26th Feb 2017

Corruption probes into EU staff on the rise

  • Olaf for 2013 recorded the highest number of investigations opened, most number of investigations closed, and highest of number of results (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The number of corruption probes into staff at the EU institutions is on the rise, according to the EU anti-fraud office Olaf.

“Over the last two years, we’ve increased the number of disciplinary recommendations, this refers only to staff of the EU institutions,” EU anti-fraud chief at Giovanni Kessler told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday (29 April).

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Olaf issued 24 so-called disciplinary recommendations last year. Its 2013 annual report, released Tuesday, also noted 46 ongoing cases against EU personnel.

Kessler, for his part, refused to break down the 46 cases by institutions, citing confidentiality issues.

“Most of these investigations start from the institutions themselves on their own staff,” he said.

Euro-deputies, while not technically staff, would not be excluded from the 46 figure, said Olaf’s spokesperson.

Despite MEP immunities, Olaf regulation says it has the mandate to launch administrative investigations on possible conflict of interest cases even if they do not directly affect EU funds.

Olaf had initially run into problems with the European Parliament after UK Sunday Times reporters in 2011 caught three MEPs on tape accepting money on behalf of a fictional company in exchange for amendments.

The parliament did not want to give Olaf investigators access, arguing the money involved did not constitute EU funds.

The assembly eventually relented but later imposed limitations.

Olaf investigators, before stepping foot into an MEP’s office, are now required to notify the parliament’s secretary general in advance.

It also means the MEP being probed must be present.

The cash-for-amendments scandal saw both Slovenian MEP Zoran Thaler and Austrian MEP Ernst Strasser resign.

Romanian MEP Adrian Severin, who was expelled from the centre-left S&D bloc, is still a sitting member. A fourth MEP, Spanish centre-right Pablo Zalba, declined the money but offered to table one of the two amendments proposed by the undercover journalists anyway.

Two years ago, MEPs had also attempted to introduce a so-called immunity clause into Olaf’s regulation that would essentially prevent if from conducting on-site investigations.

Meanwhile, German Green MEP Gerald Hafner, who chaired the parliament’s internal watchdog, the advisory committee on the conduct of deputies, voiced frustration earlier this month at the lack of follow through into serious allegations against some MEPs.

Hafner had recommended the parliament launch a number of official inquires against MEPs during his term as chair.

“Not a single one of these cases has had any conclusion or has had any consequences,” he said.

A code of conduct was set up in the wake of the 2011 cash-for-amendments scandal with the committee mandated to assess alleged breaches referred to it by the president.

“If that is the end result of the tougher rules adopted by the European Parliament, then I think that we have not done the European Parliament, nor the citizens, nor European democracy any favours,” he added.

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