Thursday

22nd Oct 2020

EU investigates corruption allegations against trade official

  • OLAF is yet to decide whether to open a formal investigation (Photo: OLAF)

The EU anti-fraud office (OLAF) opened a case file on Monday (8 September) after a trade director within the European Commission apparently leaked confidential information to reporters of the Sunday Times posing as lobbyists, in exchange for prospective financial benefits.

According to the Sunday Times, commission trade director Fritz-Harald Wenig leaked insider information about Chinese companies likely to get exemptions from EU tariffs.

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The German EU official discussed with the two British journalists posing as lobbyists the possibility of being paid in a "frozen" joint bank account he would access after his retirement.

Mr Wenig also disclosed that trade commissioner Peter Mandelson will back moves for further tariffs on Chinese footwear imports, a decision which was due to be presented on Wednesday to the other commissioners.

The European Commission immediately launched an internal inquiry on Friday evening, when contacted by the Sunday Times, said Max Strotmann, commission anti-fraud spokesman, during a press briefing on Monday.

He added that Mr Wenig is on annual leave and said this would not be an impediment to the investigation.

Meanwhile, OLAF decided on Monday to open its own case file and is currently "assessing the information," Joerg Wojahn, a spokesman for OLAF told EUobserver. After the assessment is completed, OLAF will decide to open or not a formal investigation.

Lengthy procedures

When asked in a press briefing about the outcome of previous similar cases, such as the "cereal fraud" which involved a commission official from the Directorate for Agriculture, Mr Wojahn explained that the particular case came up in 2003 and is now "an ongoing case within the Belgian criminal justice system."

"This shows how long these procedures might take," said the OLAF spokesman during the press briefing.

"It is necessary to avoid jumping to conclusions", said commission chief spokesman Johannes Laitenberger, stressing the need to respect the presumption of innocence.

He added that there is no time limit on the internal inquiry, but confirmed that Mr Wenig, depending on the outcome of the investigation, might be suspended "including possible salary or other benefits cuts".

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