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17th Jun 2019

EU anti-fraud office denies responsibility in journalist leak case

The EU's anti-fraud office, OLAF, on Friday (30 November) denied having any responsibility for the events that led to a raid of the home and office of a Brussels-based German journalist in 2004 by Belgian police.

If there is information about "a serious leak", OLAF has to look into the case and try to find out who leaked the information, said OLAF's spokesperson Alessandro Buttice in defence of the actions of his office on Friday (30 November).

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  • OLAF has a duty to investigate when there is information about a serious leak, it says (Photo: European Commission)

Mr Buttice was explaining why OLAF had taken seriously allegations that journalist Hans-Martin Tillack had bribed an EU official to obtain internal documents of the organisation, resulting in the opening of an investigation.

Speaking during a press conference organised by the International Press Association in Brussels, he said that while journalists have an obligation to look for information, OLAF has an obligation to look for leaks.

Mr Buttice was called to answer journalists questions after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday ruled in favour of Mr Tillack against the Kingdom of Belgium.

The court found that the journalist was put under suspicion following "vague and not sustained rumours" - something confirmed by the fact that he was never formally charged.

The court judgement has caused a stir among Brussels-based journalists, who see it as a ruling both against OLAF and the European commission, as well.

Information passed by OLAF to the Belgian judicial authorities in 2004 is seen as the trigger to the police raid that followed in March that year. And the initial accusation of bribery against Mr Tillack had come by a then commission spokesperson.

However, OLAF said it had a duty to pass on any information about suspected fraud activities to the relevant authorities, whom it could not force to act, and denied having had a responsibility in the whole case.

"The legal situation is clear. There is no point in endless speculative debates", OLAF director general Franz-Hermann Bruner stated in a press release.

For its part, the commission has been pointing to OLAF as an independent body and denying involvement in the affair.

Some Brussels journalists however, believe the police action was the end result of the European commission and OLAF trying to get rid of a troublesome reporter.

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