Sunday

17th Jan 2021

EU auditor used public funds to hamper anti-fraud inquiry

The secretary general of the European Court of Auditors used public funds to hire lawyers and to sue the EU's anti-fraud office (Olaf) over an inquiry into how he hired security guards. He lost the case, but no action was taken against him.

A ruling by the European Court of Justice dating back to 28 February dismissed Eduardo Ruiz Garcia's claim for Olaf to withhold publication of a report into alleged irregularities regarding the security tender he had overseen.

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  • Olaf investigators were proven right by the EU court of justice (Photo: European Commission)

It also dismissed his claim for the EU commission, which is the over-arching body Olaf is part of, to pay €6,000 in damages plus legal costs.

The Spanish auditor, in charge of administration at the Luxembourg-based EU body, earns over €16,000 a month. Still, his private legal action was paid for by his institution and he did not have to reimburse the money after losing the case.

"In the absence of accusation of any illegal or fraudulent action or corruption, the European Court of Auditors took a decision in 2011 to grant legal assistance to Mr Ruiz Garcia and the other ECA officials involved from the ECA budget, based on the article 24 of the Staff regulation," ECA communications chief Helena Maki-KorveIa told this website.

At the time when Ruiz Garcia took Olaf to court, however, the investigation had not been finalised, which is why EU's top judges dismissed his case.

"As for the decision taken by Olaf to invite a civil servant to a hearing ... it does not change his legal status to an extent allowing him to challenge it in court," the ruling reads. The top judges also note that according to EU rules all public servants have to co-operate fully with any Olaf investigation.

Maki-Korvela insisted that her institution as such co-operated fully with Olaf and that Ruiz Garcia's legal challenge was his personal right. He had repeatedly refused to participate in Olaf's hearings because the anti-fraud office "refused to clarify the context and nature of the hearing," she said on his behalf.

As for paying back the legal fee, Maki-Korvela argued that this could only be done in cases of "misconduct" by an ECA official, which was not the case as long as no legal charges were brought against him.

She also noted that at the time of the Ruiz Garcia debacle, the ECA itself was auditing Olaf's activities: "I do not say the two are linked, but that report was criticising precisely how Olaf is conducting internal investigations."

The two institutions were not 'at war' with each other over the matter and are still committed to fight fraud together, the spokeswoman stressed.

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