23rd Sep 2023

Ombudsman and OLAF chief to clash in November

The European Parliament has given the go-ahead for a face-off between the European Ombudsman and the head of the EU's anti-fraud office, OLAF, after four months' delay.

The hearing is meant to take place during a petitions committee meeting on 23 November, the head of the committee's secretariat, David Lowe, told EUobserver.

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  • The hearing will take place after the OLAF top job decision (Photo: European Commission)

The clash concerns the Ombudsman, Nikiforos Diamandouros' accusations that OLAF director general Franz-Hermann Bruner misled him over the case of German journalist Hans-Martin Tillack.

OLAF accused Mr Tillack of bribing EU officials in 2002, with the reporter still fighting to clear his name at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The Diamandouros/Bruner clash was originally tabled for 14 July, but European Parliament leaders booted it off the agenda, along with a report on the subject by British Conservative MEP Sir Robert Atkins.

The report, early drafts of which were critical of Mr Bruner, might now get the green light after the 23 November hearing.

OLAF job interviews cause problems

Mr Lowe fuelled speculation that one reason behind the delays was a potential clash with Mr Bruner's campaign to get reappointed as OLAF head.

The parliament's budget control committee (COCOBU) plans to interview five candidates, including Mr Bruner, for the OLAF director general job on 11 October.

"The parliament was wary of confusing the two issues, as any closeness of dates might have done", Mr Lowe said.

He indicated that the committee is "not very happy" over the delays, with parliament chiefs holding the body back from doing work that falls squarely within its remit.

"We wanted quite simply, and perhaps naively, to let both sides make their case", Mr Lowe remarked.

Apart from Mr Bruner, the other four candidates for the OLAF job are Swedish police chief Bjorn Eriksson, French lawyer Francois Falletti, French auditor Alain Gilette and Belgian anti-fraud specialist Johan Denolf.

Tortuous selection process

OLAF's own supervisory committee originally submitted seven names to the cabinet of administration commissioner Siim Kallas, which whittled the group down to five.

After COCOBU votes through its man on 11 October, the committee's chiefs, Mr Kallas' cabinet and EU member states' officials will then ratify the choice.

The commission will finally appoint the winner sometime in November.

The COCOBU hearings are the only part of the selection process that might be open to public scrutiny, with the committee set to decide next week on the format of the event.

OLAF reforms in pipeline

Mr Kallas' office is also heading an inter-departmental working group of commission legal and anti-fraud experts on the subject of long term OLAF reforms.

The move comes after a string of withering reports on the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the anti-fraud office, the latest being a July study by the European Court of Auditors.

The reforms might suggest higher levels of political supervision of OLAF, better protection of the civil rights of individuals under investigation and more access to information about ongoing probes.

Mr Kallas' spokeswoman predicted the proposals will be ready by the end of the year.


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