Monday

23rd Sep 2019

EU anti-fraud chief should be investigated, says MEP

  • Giovanni Kessler become Olaf chief in 2010 (Photo: OSCE)

The chair of the European Parliament budgetary control committee has renewed calls to lift the immunity of EU's anti-fraud chief Giovanni Kessler and allow an investigation by Belgian prosecutors into claims that he illegally recorded a phone conversation in 2012.

Kessler, who heads the EU's anti-fraud office Olaf, could face criminal prosecution for secretly recording a phone call during an investigation that led to EU commissioner for health John Dalli leaving his post.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Belgian authorities demanded the European Commission lift his immunity in December 2014, but officials at the EU executive have yet to act.

The commission has refused to respond to questions on the delay or rumours that it has already lifted Kessler's immunity.

"Due to legal reasons I'm not allowed to say a word on this," commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told journalists on Thursday.

Kessler is granted immunity in his role as Olaf chief. He is also entitled to bring "an action against his institution [EU commission] before the Court of Justice" if he considers that measures taken by the commission call into question his independence.

But the EP budgetary control committee chair, German center-right MEP Ingeborg Graessle, said on Wednesday (9 March) that the Belgian police should be allowed to investigate and put an end to the dispute.

"This is about the Belgian prosecution's right and possibility to look into possible misconduct during the investigation of the Dalli case," she said in a statement.

"An investigation is the only way that the Olaf director-general can clear himself of the suspicion of having illegally recorded phone calls, which is a crime in almost all member states."

Graessle has previously accused him of breaking Belgian law and violating article 7 of the EU's charter of fundamental rights over the alleged wire-tapping.

Kessler told this website in October 2014 that the accusations were baseless.

"Olaf did not - and does not - carry out any telephone tapping,” he said.

Olaf does not deny recording a conversation without the consent of the witness but says this does not amount to wire-tapping.

His office explained that “wire-tapping” is when you put a bug in a suspect’s phone, not when you record a call without the suspect’s knowledge.

Belgian federal police want to investigate this claim, but cannot because of his immunity.

The dispute flared up after it was revealed that Kessler had helped to record a phone call in July 2012 between a lobbyist for smokeless tobacco products and Maltese restaurant owner Silvio Zammit.

The restaurateur was suspected of trying to extract millions of euros in return for influencing Dalli, who is also Maltese, to lift an EU-wide sale ban on mouth tobacco known as snus.

The lobbyist was a witness in the case and called Zammit on her personal phone while at the Olaf office in Brussels.

Zammit is currently on trial in Malta on charges of bribery and peddling influence.

Dalli claimed he had been forced out because of his strong anti-tobacco stance. He took his case to the ECJ and lost.

Investigation

Part VIII: A scandal 'for the next 10 years'

In her office on the 15th floor in the Altiero Spinelli wing of the European Parliament, German centre-right MEP Ingeborg Graessle shuffles some papers on a table and then pours two glasses of water.

Investigation

EU institution beset by harassment claims

Insiders at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the EU's smallest institution, have described a culture-of-fear environment in the workplace, in the wake of the probationary appointment of its newest secretary-general.

News in Brief

  1. Barnier: Johnson's plan for Irish backstop unacceptable
  2. Google will only listen to audio if users give consent
  3. German bank fined for cheating Danish tax system
  4. Supreme Court ruling on Johnson on Tuesday
  5. 10 arrests over possible Catalonia anniversary attacks
  6. 53% of Europeans think LGTBI discrimination is widespread
  7. Doubt cast on new Maltese inquiry into slain reporter
  8. March by Slovak Catholics seeks abortion ban

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  2. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  4. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  8. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  10. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  11. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  12. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us