22nd Jan 2021

Oversight panel says anti-fraud body keeps it in the dark

  • Kessler defended his role in an investigation that led to the departure of an EU commissioner (Photo: OSCE)

Independent experts tasked with overseeing the EU’s anti-fraud office, Olaf, say they are unable to carry out their duties.

Speaking to MEPs in Brussels on Wednesday (29 May), members of the Olaf supervisory committee said it does not provide them with sufficient access to information.

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“[The] committee can no longer operate under these conditions,” said Catherine Pignon, a French public prosecutor and one of the five Olaf watchdogs.

She said they have been refused access to some documents.

Meanwhile, other papers handed over by Olaf had been “doctored or cleaned up in some way."

Under an agreement with the supervisory board, Olaf should hand over case files at least five days before it transfers them to national judicial bodies.

But in the case of John Dalli - the Maltese former EU health commissioner who lost his job last year in a tobacco lobby scandal - the supervisors say they got nothing before Olaf sent its report to prosecutors in Valetta.

Under EU rules, Olaf is also supposed to act independently of the European Commission.

But for Tuomas Poysti, another supervisory committee member who is also the Finnish auditor general, relations between anti-fraud and commission staff are far too cozy.

"Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the two,” he said.

The committee's general criticisms come on top of other anti-Olaf allegations in the Dalli affair.

Several MEPs say Olaf botched the investigation that led to Dalli’s dismissal last October in a tobacco lobbying scandal.

They say the Olaf probe broke national laws and undermined people's civil rights.

Three euro-deputies - German conservative MEP Ingeborg Graessle, Belgian Green MEP Bart Staes and French Green MEP Jose Bove - have even called for Olaf boss Giovanni Kessler's head.

But Kessler gave as good as he got in Wednesday's hearing.

He said he gave the supervisors the Dalli files three days before it went to Malta.

“Olaf has not denied [access to] any case,” he noted.

He also said he implements word for word a September 2012 access to documents pact agreed with the oversight committee ayer input from the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS).

The agreement states the files should be shortened and anonymised to protect the identify of those under investigation.

Kessler said this is why some of the data may be blacked out.

“In the past Olaf was a kind of supermarket for information … everybody could get access without even the general-director knowing it,” he added.

He cited an EDPS opinion from February 2012 which said full and automatic access to all case files would be "excessive."

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