Friday

23rd Feb 2018

Interview

EU anti-fraud chief: We can improve Brussels' image

  • Olaf chief Giovanni Kessler urged EU institutions not to stand in his way (Photo: OSCE)

The head of the EU anti-fraud office, Giovanni Kessler, has said he can improve Brussels' reputation so long as the work of his institution is not obstructed.

Set up in 1999 after a corruption scandal which led to the en-masse resignation of the European Commission, Olaf is supposed to investigate in cases where EU money is suspected of being defrauded. It is also tasked with looking into the "serious misbehaviour" of EU institutions' employees.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"Over the years Olaf has developed a bigger capacity and know-how. We gained the confidence not only of the institutions themselves, but also by the people in general who come to us, as well as police, national authorities or private companies,"

Kessler told this website.

He added: "It was a good message sent in 1999, that institutions are transparent, clean and subject to independent investigations. The institutions should be proud of this. Olaf is a resource, not a problem-maker. It is better to say 'we discovered it and we are doing something about it,' rather than try to cover it up."

Kessler, an Italian politician who took up the job as Olaf director general in February 2011, recently re-organised the 500-people strong bureau to focus more on investigations, with one unit out of eight now devoted to internal EU probes.

"According to an inter-institutional agreement dating back to 1999, Olaf also has a mandate to investigate all members and staff of all EU institutions also when there is serious misconduct likely to end in disciplinary or criminal proceedings, even if there is no fraud and corruption affecting the EU financial interests - which is our main mandate," he explained.

Back in March last year, just three months into the job, he hit an inter-institutional wall when his staff wanted to raid the offices of four MEPs exposed by the Sunday Times as having accepted bribes for legislative amendments.

The European Parliament said MEPs had immunity and that their offices cannot be raided. Olaf still carried out the investigation and cleared one Spanish MEP, while information on the other three - an Austrian, a Romanian and a Slovene - was forwarded to national prosecutors and may lead to corruption trials at home.

"What happened with the inquiry into the four MEPs is that the parliament did not understand this [the Olaf mandate]. I think they were caught by surprise. At a certain point they must have gotten really nervous, thinking that now Olaf will rush into all their offices," Kessler recalled.

"With all the due prudence, and I understand that MEPs are not staff, they have a political mandate for which they are responsible to their voters, but when a line is crossed, they are responsible in front of the law and someone has to investigate."

After speaking with the parliament's new president, German socialist Martin Schulz, Kessler said he is "very much reassured" that "no-one stands above the law."

Taken to court

Relations between Olaf and the Luxembourg-based European Court of Auditors are less amiable, however.

The court's secretary general, Eduardo Ruiz Garcia, last year took Olaf to court for making him the target of one of its inquiries. The court in February dismissed Garcia's claim to damages and to suspend the Olaf investigation.

"We did our job, which is to investigate," Kessler said.

"We received an allegation of wrongdoings in the Court of Auditors in the context of a security tender from a private company, so we started an investigation. As simple as that, according to the rules. We closed it in March with recommendations addressed to the Court of Auditors for disciplinary measures and to the Luxembourg judicial authorities."

He added: "It was their right to go to court. We didn't complain or make statements about it. We did our report, because we work for the institutions. Now it's up to them to follow up on the recommendations."

The court has so far not taken any action against Garcia and Olaf is powerless in this regard, but it can report to the European Parliament and its own supervisory committee on how its recommendations are being followed up.

On the use of public money to defend Garcia in court, as reported by this website, Kessler said: "I got the confirmation on that in reading your article."

Asked whether there will be another investigation into this aspect of the case, the Olaf chief replied: "No comment."

"In our history we've done investigations on Eurojust, on Europol, on many other institutions. And now we had one on the Court of Auditors. It happens. I don't want to dramatise it, neither to play it down. It's our job and we do it with professionalism and discretion. We don't leak, we don't play a fanfare," he said.

The spokeswoman of the Court of Auditors has remarked that the Garcia case came at the same time as a court probe into Olaf, alluding to some kind of skullduggery.

For his part, Kessler noted: "We started the investigation upon an allegation. We didn't say: 'Oh my goodness, the timing is wrong, why should we create problems by starting an investigation.' We work in full independence."

He added: "Their report was, by the way, very useful for Olaf. We have implemented their recommendations from 1 February and in the re-organisation of Olaf many changes we have done have their origin in their report."

Romanian MEP charged with defrauding over €400,000

Adrian Severin, a Romanian MEP accused of having taken bribes from journalists posing as lobbyists, has been charged with siphoning €436,000 from the EU budget to bogus consultancy firms in Romania. He is still in office, claiming his innocence.

News in Brief

  1. Report: EU to increase sanctions on Myanmar
  2. Juncker 'worried' by Italian elections
  3. EU migration to UK at lowest since 2012
  4. MEP Andrieu will chair parliament pesticide committee
  5. Juncker's right-hand man warns of 'institutional blockage'
  6. Greek parliament to open probe on PMs and EU commissioner
  7. May gathers Brexit ministers to hammer out UK position
  8. Tajani asks Juncker for all EMA Brexit relocation documents

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUMovie Premiere: 'Up to The Last Drop' - 22 February, Brussels
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU leaders to kick off post-Brexit budget debate
  2. Greek government's steady steps to exit bailout programme
  3. Frontex: Europe's new law enforcement agency?
  4. Poland and Greece broke EU environment laws, rules court
  5. Dutch MPs vote on ending 'Ukraine-type' referendums
  6. Corruption report: Hungary gets worse, Italy makes progress
  7. UK seeks flexible transition length after Brexit
  8. Commission defence of Barroso meeting leaves 'discrepancies'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformBeyond the Errors in the War on Terror: How to Fight Global Militarism - 22 February
  2. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  4. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  5. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  6. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  7. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  9. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  11. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  12. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission