Saturday

20th Apr 2019

Exclusive

EU bodies dodge questions on secret VW loan report

  • The building in Brussels which houses the European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf) (Photo: Fred Romero)

The European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have refused to answer detailed questions about the demand from the European Ombudsman to publish an Olaf report about a €400m EIB loan Volkswagen Group (VW) received through deception.

On Monday (1 April), the Ombudsman published the outcome of a one-year inquiry into a complaint filed by EUobserver, which had requested to see the Olaf report in the summer of 2017, through the EU's access to documents regulation.

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

  • Once a year, Olaf opens its doors to the public. Olaf is much more secretive when it comes to a report into how Volkswagen deceived the European Investment Bank (Photo: OLAF)

Emily O'Reilly argued that the EIB's decision not to publish constituted "maladministration", and called for disclosure of the report, the recommendations Olaf made to EIB to prevent future misuse of loans, and two internal EIB notes.

The report, written by Olaf and sent to EIB in mid-2017, said that VW had misled the EIB when it applied for the €400m loan that was supposed to be used to reduce emissions - while in fact the German carmaker had been cheating tests to pretend its high-level emissions were in line with EU standards.

The EIB did not comment on the record, but let an EIB official send a statement on condition of anonymity.

"According to the Ombudsman's statute, the EIB shall reply to the EO [European Ombudsman] with a detailed opinion by 29 June 2019," the official wrote on Monday.

"As this stage, the EIB is not in a position to comment on the EO's recommendations. The EIB is thoroughly assessing them with a view to providing its reasoned opinion to the EO within the statutory timeframe," the statement concluded.

Separately, Olaf sent a general statement and refused to answer detailed questions.

"Olaf's final reports are subject to strict rules of confidentiality and are therefore not made public by Olaf," the Olaf press office said in the emailed statement.

"This is in order to protect the legitimate rights of the persons concerned, ensure the confidentiality of Olaf investigations and of possible follow-up in administrative and judicial proceedings, as well as to protect personal data."

The Ombudsman, which is an independent body and whose team had access to the documents, had concluded that in this particular case, there was no risk in publication.

Olaf did not answer a specific question about that conclusion.

The Olaf press office also claimed that it was up to the recipients of their reports to decide whether to disclose them, saying "the decision on protecting the confidentiality of the Olaf reports, and implicitly on any possible disclosure, belongs in the first place to the authorities who had received it".

Olaf contradicts itself

But that is not how Olaf apparently behaved in its communication to the EIB, according to the Ombudsman's findings.

"The EIB had requested Olaf's opinion on disclosure of the report. The EIB said that Olaf had expressed strong opposition to the (even partial) disclosure of the report," the Ombudsman said.

"The bank stated that it could not ignore the formal opinion of Olaf and indicated that the EIB depended on Olaf's cooperation properly to identify any information which would undermine Olaf's investigative function if disclosed."

Replying to Olaf's email, EUobserver pointed out that it was contradictory for Olaf to say that it was up to the recipients of reports to decide whether to publish them - but at the same time bilaterally express strong opposition to disclosure.

"Olaf cannot comment further," it said in a reply.

NGO pressure

The non-governmental organisation Bankwatch criticised Olaf's statement, saying it was a "mismatch" vis-a-vis the Ombudsman assessment.

"Olaf undertakes the investigation within the scope of its competences and thus is entirely responsible for the content of the investigation and its disclosure," said Bankwatch campaigner Anna Roggenbuck.

"It tries to get away with the responsibility for disclosure of its own report from its own investigation," she added.

The EIB is one of the institutions Bankwatch monitors, and it has been scrutinising EIB loans to VW since the Dieselgate scandal broke in 2015.

Olaf had previously denied Bankwatch access to the report.

The NGO will now try again with a new access to documents request to Olaf.

"In her decision, the Ombudsman clearly indicated that her decision would be the same in case a request for disclosure would be addressed directly to Olaf," said Roggenbuck.

"She was clearly stating that both EIB and Olaf should disclose the investigation report if requested. This is why we think we may be successful this time," she noted.

A majority in the European Parliament also wants the documents published.

Exclusive

EIB 'maladministration' verdict over VW fraud report

EUobserver should have been granted access to a fraud investigation into a €400m EU loan to Volkswagen Group (VW), and recommendations on how to avoid future misuse, the European Ombudsman has concluded.

Investigation

ECB in ‘bail-out’ of scandal-tainted VW

The ECB has started to “bail out” Germany’s Volkswagen Group by buying its corporate bonds, but other EU-linked banks continue to shun the scandal-tainted firm.

Secrecy of VW fraud report 'unacceptable', says MEP

Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala won a trailblazing court case two decades ago for the right of EU citizens to receive 'partial access' to documents. Now she says it is "outrageous" the European Investment Bank is refusing to release Volkswagen documents.

EIB 'more sensitive' to fraud after Dieselgate

The president of the European Investment Bank, Werner Hoyer, said the bank had high standards - but did not explain why an anti-fraud report on a loan to Volkswagen was being kept secret.

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.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us