Olaf considers court action against EU commission
The EU's anti-fraud office Olaf on Friday (11 March) is considering possible legal action to protect its independence after the European Commission lifted the immunity of its director-general.
"This would be an unprecedented step, but one that is crucial in ensuring the independence and proper functioning of Olaf and, through Olaf's investigative work, the protection of the EU budget," Olaf's press office said in an email.
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The move follows an unfolding scandal that could see Olaf's head Giovanni Kessler face criminal charges from Belgian federal prosecutors in a case that dates back to July 2012.
Belgian authorities requested immunity be lifted in December 2014 after allegations surfaced Kessler helped wire-tap a witness in a tobacco-lobbying investigation that eventually led to the dismissal of John Dalli, an EU commissioner for health. Kessler has always denied the claim.
Although no money was found to have ever been exchanged, Dalli was alleged to have accepted bribes on behalf of a Maltese restaurant owner, Silvio Zammit.
Meanwhile, the commission, for reasons it refuses to explain, waited until earlier this month to comply with the Belgian federal request.
On Friday, the commission spokesman finally went public when he told reporters that Kessler's immunity had been officially waived.
"The commission adopted last second of March in its weekly college meeting a decision to waive the immunity of a senior commission official. This was done on the request received from the commission by a Belgian public prosecutor," he said.
The move could possibly see the two end up at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
The wire-tap allegation first exploded three years ago at a European Parliament committee hearing.
Austrian left-wing MEP Herbert Bosch, who at the time was sitting on a five-member supervisory panel designed to ensure Olaf complies with the rules, dropped the bombshell.
At the hearing, Bosch said Olaf was breaching fundamental rights and the terms of its mandate by recording private phone conversations.
"Olaf's legal basis to undertake these actions is not apparent from the text of the regulation [on Olaf] and no specific legal analysis has been made by Olaf prior to their execution [of the alleged wiretaps]," he said at the time.
Bosch, who helped draft the blueprint for Olaf’s existing administrative structure was also the former chair of the EU parliament's budgetary control committee.
That seat now belongs to German centre-right Ingeborg Graessle, a Bosch confidante.
"I personally would find it important and appropriate for him [Kessler] to leave the office. The whole affair is without precedent and raises further serious questions," Graessle said in a statement Friday.
This article was updated Friday at 17.50 and the original title "Olaf threatens court action against EU commission" modified after Olaf told EUobserver that its statement mentioning legal action to protect its independence was not a threat to the EU Commission but only a possibility offered by EU law.