Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Buzek allows Olaf probe, continues to deny access to offices

  • Buzek: Olaf must 'act in full respect of the immunity of a member' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek has let the EU's anti-fraud office (Olaf) conduct an investigation into the Sunday Times cash-for-amendments scandal. But he continues to deny access to MEPs' offices.

Buzek last week told Olaf to stick to matters related to misspent EU funds.

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But on Wednesday evening (30 March) parliament's secretary general, Klaus Welle, personally handed over a letter from Buzek to his counterpart in Olaf, informing him of a change of heart in the case of four deputies who allegedly introduced legislative changes in return for promises of money.

"I have analysed the situation in depth and decided to allow the administrative investigation," the letter says.

The EP chief added that Olaf has no right to search offices however, saying MEPs must first be stripped of their immunity and that national authorities in Austria and Slovenia should step in to handle criminal proceedings.

"If Olaf wishes to start an investigation, then it evidently has to conduct it as an administrative, and not a criminal, investigation and act in full respect of the immunity of a member [of the parliament]," the letter says. "In the context of the administrative investigation, I can not allow Olaf to enter into the MEPs offices."

"I highlight the fact that the EP is ready to fully co-operate with relevant national authorities, including full access to the MEPs offices and computers once the immunity is waved."

An Olaf official said Buzek's position is unacceptable.

"This is not the end of the story for us, we believe we have a mandate [to access parliament's buildings]," Olaf spokesman Pavel Borkovec told this website.

Ten days ago the Sunday Times accused Austrian centre-right MEP Ernst Strasser, Slovenian Socialist MEP Zoran Thaler and Romanian Socialist MEP Adrian Severin of accepting offers of money from fake lobbyists in return for parliamentary amendments. Last weekend the paper added Spanish centre-right MEP Pablo Zalba to the list, a figure well-known in Brussels circles for his strongly pro-trade stance.

Strasser and Thaler have resigned. Severin continues to work as an independent. And all four have denied wrongdoing.

Buzek and the heads of parliament's political groups are set to discuss how to overhaul the legislature's internal rules to prevent future abuses on Thursday evening.

In a preparatory letter to the political chiefs ahead of the meeting, seen by EUobserver, Buzek says the time has come for the commission to come forward with "legislation which would establish a mandatory register for all institutions" on EU lobbyists.

Transparency groups have pressed hard for a mandatory register of firms actively lobbying EU institutions. The current register for the European Commission and the parliament works on a voluntary basis only.

While this is being set up, Buzek says the parliament should quickly establish its own de facto mandatory register for lobbyists.

"The question of second jobs of members also needs to be addressed," says Buzek in the second letter, but stops short of calling for a ban on all paid second jobs.

"Members should be required to update their existing declaration of interests much more regularly than once a year - ideally within a maximum of one month of any change in their circumstances," he said.

He also acknowledged there is a "certain irony" in MEPs scrutinising the new Code of Conduct for EU commissioners while there is no equivalent for euro-deputies: "I propose that we look closely at the Commissioners' code, as well as the obligations in the 27 national parliaments, to see whether there are certain general principles on which we can readily agree."

Romanian MEP charged with defrauding over €400,000

Adrian Severin, a Romanian MEP accused of having taken bribes from journalists posing as lobbyists, has been charged with siphoning €436,000 from the EU budget to bogus consultancy firms in Romania. He is still in office, claiming his innocence.

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