Saturday

21st Jan 2017

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  2. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  4. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  5. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  6. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  7. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  8. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  9. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism
  10. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London
  11. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhDs Across Europe on the Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU - Apply Now!
  12. Dialogue PlatformInterview: Fethullah Gulen Condemns Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey