23rd Jul 2021

EU anti-fraud chief defends his name

  • Kessler says his office has been defamed over allegations into 'Dalligate' (Photo: OSCE)

The EU’s anti-fraud office (Olaf) has been unjustly accused of wrongdoing over the Dalli affair, its chief, Giovanni Kessler, has said amid calls for his resignation.

His defence came in response to a 44-page annual report, put together by the four-member panel of the supervisory committee that monitors Olaf, which was distributed late on Monday (22 April) and seen by this website.

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The report looks at a number of issues, including the agency’s co-operation with the supervisory committee, its respect for fundamental rights and its internal reform process.

Olaf is under intense scrutiny by some euro-deputies over its four-month investigation into bribery allegations that led to the resignation and disgrace of former EU commissioner for health John Dalli in October last year.

Two MEPs on the budgetary control committee, Belgian Green Bart Staes and German conservative Ingeborg Graessle called on Kessler to step down on Tuesday.

"There seems no alternative but for Giovanni Kessler to resign as Olaf director general," Staes said in his statement.

The annual report does not explicitly mention Dalli, but a separate internal report - kept under lock and key at the European Parliament - discusses the individual case in detail.

EUobserver also saw an executive summary of the parliament’s locked report.

Kessler spoke out in Olaf's defence at a hearing of Staes and Graessle's committee in Brussels on Tuesday in remarks referring only to the broader annual report.

He said the paper nowhere uses the word "violation" in its analysis on Olaf's respect for fundamental rights.

He said Olaf has been defamed both in the media and in parliament by unfair claims that it falsified the results of its investigations. “There is no trace of this in the report … there is no trace of this in the opinion which the supervisory committee has done on the Dalli case,” he told euro-deputies.

He also said it gave supervisors access to whatever files they asked for: "We always gave access to the supervisory committee since February last until this year in all cases that have been requested … 61 cases of request, 61 information given as requested."

“There is a healthy relationship and good co-operation between the supervisory committee and Olaf,” he added.

For his part, the head of the supervisory committee, Belgian prosecutor Johan Denolf, took issue with Kessler's opinion on the healthy working relationship.

"The feeling is not entirely mutual,” he told MEPs.

The committee’s role is to monitor whether Olaf respects fundamental rights and due process.

Its annual report says the committee from March 2012 onwards encountered obstacles to its monitoring function in the form of "excessive and discretionary restriction” of access to case files in Olaf's computers.

It accuses Olaf of deciding when to grant or not to grant case-related information and to what extent the committee is kept informed.

“Such an interpretation would lead to the demolition of the supervisory committee’s role,” the supervisors say.

Censoring the supervisor

Olaf is required to inform the committee of any case that lasts more than nine months.

But the nine-month reports it received from September 2012 onwards were redacted with “substantial amount of information … blackened, and the factual elements provided … were regularly insufficient.”

The report mentions the Dalli case without naming Dalli.

The committee is entitled to review within five days every case report issued by Olaf before its submission to national authorities.

But Olaf bypassed the committee entirely and sent its Dalli report to the Maltese police.

“This prevented the supervisory committee from carrying out the examination of the respect of fundamental rights and procedural guarantees prior to the transmission of the case,” the report says.

Olaf is accused of indirectly wiretapping a telephone conversation and by asking national authorities to submit data to its sleuths, despite the fact its "legal basis to undertake these actions is not apparent."

The supervisors also raise issue with Kessler’s direct involvement in cases, such as personally interviewing witnesses, saying it could give rise to a conflict of interest.

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