20th Mar 2018

Administrative blunder sees MEP walk free from corruption probe

  • An outgoing MEP evades parliament inquiry on corruption because of a blunder (Photo: Martin Fisch)

A lost file in the European Parliament has allowed a Romanian MEP suspected of corruption to leave the assembly without any inquiry.

Romanian prosecutors in December asked EP president Martin Schulz to waiver the immunity of outgoing liberal MEP Ovidiu Silaghi.

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Silaghi, who denies all charges against him, has since evaded any EP inquiry due to negligence by the people tasked with co-ordinating the paperwork in the EU institution.

"A letter was sent by president Schulz, which got mislaid because it was badly addressed, and by the time it reached the committee secretariat it was too late to do anything about it," Robert Bray, a top official in the committee of legal affairs, told this website on Tuesday (24 June).

The administrative error, undiscovered until recently, prompted accusations against Schulz that he had deliberately obstructed the inquiry by failing to report the waiver demand via the proper channels.

Romanian centre-right euro deputy Monica Macovei on Monday accused the EP socialist leader of deliberately shelving the request.

However, Schulz's letter had indeed been sent but was hidden away in a pile of papers and forgotten by the people meant to handle the case in the first place.

The rules

Under parliament's procedures, a request to waiver an MEP's immunity must be announced in plenary and forwarded on to the committee of legal affairs.

Schulz says he sent the letter in early February after having received the notice from Romania in December.

Schulz's letter had been addressed to the chairman of the committee, Klaus-Heiner Lehne.

But Lehne at the end of February stepped down as chair and was appointed to the Court of Auditors a month later.

"It [Schulz's letter] was addressed to him [Lehne] but not as chair of the committee, just to him and his private office. It was a bureaucratic mistake basically," said Bray.

By the time the error was discovered the committee had no more meetings scheduled for the remainder of the plenary – with the procedure to waive an MEP's immunity a lengthy process.

Requests to lift MEPs' immunity, despite parliamentary procedures, are not always announced in the plenary if there is a doubt about admissibility.

The EP presidency either checks with the legal services or with the legal affairs committee about whether the request is valid before proceeding.

Who is Ovidiu Ioan Silaghi?

As Romania's minister for transport, Silaghi in 2012 allegedly accepted some €200,000 in bribes from the manager of the roadworks company, SC Romstrade SRL.

In exchange for the sum, Silaghi is said to have used his position to lobby on behalf of companies within the Romstrade group.

Asked to comment, Silaghi in an email said the allegations are "not true" and called it disinformation.

Silaghi was sent to the EU assembly in September 2013 to replace another euro-deputy after Romania reshuffled its government.

A few days before Silaghi landed his new Brussels-based job, Romania's parliament had received a request to lift his immunity as a national MP.

The waiver was never followed up.

"Romanian ministers, if they are also parliamentarians cannot be investigated at all by the public prosecutor unless the parliament lifts their immunity," said Laura Stefan, an anti-corruption expert and former director in the Romanian Ministry of Justice.

"If you are a parliamentarian, you cannot be arrested, you cannot be searched, without approval of the parliament," she told this website.

Silaghi was both a minister and a national MP at the time of the corruption allegations made against him.

Next, Silaghi was granted special immunity protection from the EU plenary once he took up his duties as euro-deputy.

Romania's National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) then asked Schulz to lift Silaghi's euro-deputy immunity so that it could initiate the corruption probe.

But as an outgoing MEP, Silaghi's EP immunity is set to expire on 1 July.

However, he has since returned to being a national MP.

"He has again become an Romanian MP and now again has immunity as a Romanian MP," said Stefan.

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