25th Oct 2016

German reporter comes out on top in EU bribery case

The Belgian judiciary on Tuesday (6 December) definitively closed a case brought by the EU anti-fraud office, OLAF, against Brussels-based German journalist Hans-Martin Tillack in 2004.

"The Belgians by themselves decided to close the case now at last," Mr Tillack told a press conference after the country's public prosecutor concluded that there was not enough evidence against the journalist.

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  • Mr Tillack's run-in with OLAF started almost five years ago (Photo: EUobserver)

The saga started almost five years ago when OLAF suggested the reporter, working for German news magazine Stern, had bribed EU officials in order to gather documents for an article he published in 2002 on alleged irregularities in OLAF.

An action by Belgian police then followed that resulted in the journalist being detained by the police for several hours, his home and office being searched, and possessions including 16 boxes of documents, two archive boxes, two computers and four mobile phones being seized.

The hundreds of pages of seized documents were eventually returned to him last year.

Prior to this, the European court of human rights in 2007 judged that Mr Tillack's right to freedom of expression had been violated and asked Belgium to pay him €10,000 for "moral damages" as well as €30,000 in costs.

On Monday, Mr Tillack said that he hoped the affair would serve as a lesson to the European Commission when it comes to respecting journalists' rights and freedom of expression.

Siim Kallas, EU commissioner for administrative affairs, audit and anti-fraud, has previously stated that he would "draw conclusions from this case when it's over," Mr Tillack said.

"Perhaps now is the time for the commission to look at the way OLAF was handling this case ... There are many questions that have to be still solved regarding the behaviour of OLAF and the European Commission. and perhaps Mr Kallas should now put his actions where his words were," he added.

Aidan White, general secretary of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), which supported Mr Tillack throughout the case, argued the need for EU officials to apologise to the journalist.

"Those responsible within the EU and its investigation office, OLAF, should apologise publicly for their mistakes and for the damage they have caused. So far, there has been no hint of any regret from anyone within the EU," he said, adding that this was a sign of "arrogance."

For its part, the commission has always stressed OLAF is an independent body and denied any responsibility for the affair.

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