Saturday

19th Oct 2019

Olaf: four possible fraud cases with MEP assistants

  • Olaf is investigating four cases of possible fraud by MEP assistants (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU's anti-fraud office is investigating four cases of possible misconduct by assistants of members of the European Parliament (MEPs), a spokesperson told this website.

The office, known by its French acronym Olaf, received thirteen allegations in total this year. It has dismissed eight of them, either because there was no clear cause for an investigation or because Olaf lacked the jurisdiction.

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One allegation is still waiting to be processed, according to the Olaf press office.

Last June, Olaf's director announced that “tit-for-tat” accusations had been levelled after assistants to MEPs from the French far-right party National Front (FN) had carried out tasks unrelated to their parliamentary work.

The Olaf press office could not say how many assistants are being investigated in those four cases, or what the status was of the twenty suspected FN assistants.

But since Olaf said it received only thirteen allegations, while we know that 20 FN assistants were publicly accused, it may be inferred that a “case” must involve more than one assistant.

Last March, the European Parliament's president, centre-left German Martin Schulz, informed Olaf of possible financial irregularities, and the EP website published a press release.

After giving EUobserver the figures of how many cases were being investigated, the Olaf press office declined to answer any follow-up questions.

“Olaf will not issue any further comment at this stage in order to protect the confidentiality of possible investigations, personal data and procedural rights,” said a spokesperson.

Because Olaf's policy is not to disclose who it is investigating, FN is now the only party publicly named as having possible wrongdoers among its ranks.

At the same June press conference at which Olaf director Giovanni Kessler announced that “tit-for-tat” accusations were “becoming popular”, he criticized those who rush to tell the press after filing a complaint with Olaf. Once a public accusation has been made, the investigation may be impeded.

So why did president Schulz comment publicly on the suspicions?

His spokesperson, Armin Machmer, said Schulz “did not make public or communicate through the press any work allegations towards the FN assistants”, adding that it was the French press that first made the allegations.

“The sequence of events was as follows: the parliament's financial services started an investigation following publications in several French media of the organigram of the French party headquarters of the FN, which featured several individuals who were also accredited assistants in the European Parliament, and of suspicions of systematic illegal party financing using cross-financing, in particular from various EP funds,” Machmer informed this website in a written statement.

He said that an internal inquiry by the parliament found that “a number of accredited parliamentary assistants, instead of working at their regular workplace in Brussels, where they were employed under the EU staff regulations, did in fact work at the Front National headquarters in Paris.”

“The same applies to a number of local assistants. As the findings revealed a case of fraud against the EU budget, the president was legally obliged to inform Olaf about these findings and to ask them to take over the case.”

“Furthermore, we are not talking about allegations, but about proven findings of the parliament's services,” Machmer added.

He said that the EP “has in the meantime taken the necessary steps to put an end to the contracts concerned and to recover the sums in question".

This website also asked Machmer if Schulz or the parliament had announced allegations of possible irregularities with MEP assistants from other groups, and if not, why not.

“Whenever Parliament's service are made aware of financial irregularities or of any other breaches of internal rules or of other legislation, these cases are referred to the competent authorities regardless of political affiliation and regardless of the individual in question. The president follows internal and external legal rules and procedures strictly and does not compromise the presumption of innocence through his media work,” said Machmer.

So far, no other allegations have been made public on the EP's website.

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