25th Oct 2016


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.

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.

"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."

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFADraft Bill for a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum
  2. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  3. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  4. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  5. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  6. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament
  7. World VisionWomen and Girls Urge EU Leadership to Help end Gender-based Violence
  8. Dialogue PlatformIs Jihadism Blind Spot of Western Intellectuals ? Wednesday 26 October
  9. Belgrade Security ForumGet the Latest News and Updates on the Belgrade Security Forum @BelSecForum
  10. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeMaster Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! Conference 21 November - 10% Discount Code CSWEU16
  11. EJCEU Parliament's Roadmap for Relations with Iran a Massive Missed Opportunity
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersFish Skin on Bare Skin: Turning Fish Waste into Sustainable Fashion

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CEDECOpportunities From the Creation of Synergies at Local Level in the Energy Transition
  2. ACCAFinTech Boom Needs Strong Guidance to Navigate Regulatory Hurdles
  3. Counter BalanceWhy the Investment Plan for Europe Does not Drive the Sustainable Energy Transition
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region Seeks to Make Its Voice Heard in the World
  5. Taipei EU OfficeCountries Voice Support for Taiwan's Participation in ICAO
  6. GoogleDid You Know Europe's Largest Dinosaur Gallery Is in Brussels? Check It Out Now
  7. IPHRHuman Rights in Uzbekistan After Karimov - Joint Statement
  8. CISPECloud Infrastructure Providers Unveil Data Protection Code of Conduct
  9. EFAMessages of Hope From the Basque Country and Galicia
  10. Access NowDigital Rights Heroes & Villains. Who Protects Your Rights, Who Wants to Take Them Away