Tuesday

6th Dec 2022

Italian appointed head of EU's anti-fraud office

  • Mr Kessler was also president of the OSCE parliamentary assembly (Photo: OSCE)

The European Commission on Tuesday appointed former Italian Mafia prosecutor and anti-counterfeiting czar Giovanni Kessler as head of the bloc's anti-fraud office (Olaf), following similar recommendations from the European Parliament and member states.

The appointment of Italy's former anti-counterfeiting czar (2006-2008) was pushed by Rome and the groups in the European Parliament keen to see an outsider take over the 11-year old institution that so far has had a single director general in its history, Franz Herman Bruener, who passed away in January.

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"The Italian government has supported with determination the application of the former Italian magistrate, whose curriculum [vitae] carries great weight when it comes to combating corruption and fraud," Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini said in a statement.

The 54-year old former anti-Mafia prosecutor is currently a regional politician heading the legislative assembly of his native province, Trento, in northern Italy. According to his CV, Mr Kessler is fluent in both English and German as well as his native Italian. He was also head of the parliamentary assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which includes Russia, and a member of the Italian parliament from 2001-2006.

His political career seems to have started after a brief appointment as head of the OSCE police and justice mission in Kosovo, from December 1998 to July 1999. Prior to that, from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, he was a member of the Court of Auditors, a public prosecutor and an anti-Mafia prosecutor in Sicily.

As director general of Olaf, Mr Kessler will be in charge of EU anti-fraud investigations, together with authorities in member states, and will also conduct internal inquiries regarding misconduct of EU officials. He will manage some 500 staff and a budget of around €50 million per year.

"I am outside Olaf, I have no previous choices to defend or promises to keep. I am an external person, but not unrelated: I have known the Office since its foundation, I have worked with it on several occasions as a prosecutor and as high commissioner [for anti-counterfeiting]," Mr Kessler told MEPs during his hearing last month.

Senior EU officials appointed from new member states

In a parallel development, the commission on Tuesday also appointed further top officials from several member states, mostly new ones: a Maltese national as deputy director-general for health and consumers, three Romanian nationals as directors for agriculture, energy and research, two Lithuanians in charge of humanitarian aid and competition and one advisor of Polish nationality in the directorate managing interprets.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton appointed a Slovak diplomat, Miroslav Lajcak as director for Russia, Eastern Neighbourhood and the Western Balkans within the new diplomatic service (EEAS). A Swede, Christian Leffler, was also put in charge as managing director the Americas in the EEAS.

"These two key appointments cover vitally important relationships for the EU with our neighbours and strategically important partners across the Atlantic. Miroslav and Christian will bring experience and authority to these key posts in the new External Action Service," Ms Ashton said in a statement.

EU countries struggle to crack Hungary's vetos

Hungary will be in the spotlight on Tuesday as EU governments struggle over suspending EU funds to prime minister Viktor Orbán's government — despite rule of law concerns — and unlock key EU policies which Budapest has been blocking.

EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary

Prime minister Viktor Orbán's government has to implement 27 measures "fully and correctly" before any payment from the €5.8bn recovery fund can be made, or the suspended €7.5bn of cohesion funds can be unblocked.

Catalan spyware victims demand justice

Victims of the widening spyware scandal in Spain are demanding justice and reparations, following the revelations that journalists, lawyers, civil society and politicians had been targeted.

EU Commission to keep Hungary's EU funds in limbo

The EU executive, on the other hand, is expected to approve Hungary's recovery plan, worth €5.8bn, but only would disburse actual money if Hungary delivers on some 27 key reforms.

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