Tuesday

2nd Jun 2020

EU anti-fraud office unhappy with extra scrutiny proposal

  • EU taxation commissioner Semeta said a new Olaf oversight body is needed (Photo: European Parliament)

A special committee charged with overseeing the EU’s anti-fraud body, Olaf, is unhappy with a European Commission proposal to create an additional watchdog.

After spending nine years in negotiations that led to a major overhaul of Olaf last year, the commission over the summer proposed setting up a "controller of procedural guarantees" to help boost public confidence in the body.

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But the head of the supervisory committee, a body of five outside independent experts already tasked to monitor Olaf’s administrative investigations, describes the commission’s idea as superfluous and unnecessary.

“We do not understand the need for such parallelism, which would mean that Olaf and its director-general would have more than one supervisory body,” Johan Denolf told euro-deputies in the parliament’s budgetary control committee on Monday (8 September).

Denolf has been at loggerheads with Olaf in an outstanding issue over access to case information and files. The issue is largely rooted in how Olaf conducted its 2012 probe into former EU commissioner for health, John Dalli.

The supervisory committee at the time complained Olaf had obstructed its role by keeping it in the dark in a case that saw Dalli leave office in disgrace over allegations he had solicited bribes from the tobacco industry via an intermediary.

“If the legislator wants to reinforce and widen the supervision over Olaf, which is a wise idea, it would seem most logical to reinforce and widen the competences of the committee currently supervising Olaf,” noted Denolf.

Denolf says the committee still doesn’t know if Olaf is sticking to the rules whenever it conducts its administrative investigations because it is does not get complete access to case files.

Details over the commission’s proposal remains murky among the MEPs who wanted answers from EU taxation commissioner Algirdas Semeta.

Semeta gave the budgetary control committee a brief presentation of the new controller but left before MEPs could question him.

He noted the decision to not expand the supervisory committee’s oversight power was political and would risk dragging it into on-going investigations.

“This solution was discussed extensively between 2004 and 2012 and got no support from the Council (member states). It is therefore not likely it would be supported by the Council today,” he said.

Another difference, he added, was that the supervisory committee’s role is to look at “systemic problems in Olaf’s function” whereas the controller “is to review individual and on-going cases in the interest of person’s concerned.”

The commission maintains the supervisory committee is not mandated to interfere in ongoing investigations or to examine the respect of fundamental rights in individual cases. That right instead goes to its new controller.

Under the commission’s proposal, the controller has two roles.

The first is to review complaints from people being probed by Olaf over alleged violations of their rights.

The second would require Olaf to first ask the controller permission to enter the offices of elected and appointed members of the EU institutions.

Despite being attached to the commission, Semeta said the controller “would remain fully independent”.

Olaf’s 2013 overhaul includes new rules meant to guarantee that rights are respected whenever someone is being investigated. It also sets up rights for witnesses and obligations to carry out legality checks on Olaf investigations.

“These changes were a major step forward,” said the commissioner.

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