EU fraud watchdog OLAF still under fire

3 July 2013

EU fraud watchdog OLAF still under fire

03-07-2013 • The European Parliament today voted on the work of EU fraud watchdog OLAF. In particular, the sloppy way in which it conducted the investigation into former European Commissioner John Dalli and the violent quarrel between Italian OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler and the supervisory committee are making it necessary to tighten OLAF’s reins still further. SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong, commenting on the matter, said ‘it’s clear that in the Dalli affair serious mistakes were made. It’s disappointing that the European Parliament has not chosen to tighten up the rules, but it has at least confirmed that a great deal must change at OLAF and that’s something.’

Dennis de Jong

De Jong intends over the next few months to step up the pressure viaa large-scale investigation. ‘I want to see a major external enquiry that must explain why in so few cases people have been convicted by national courts after OLAF has conducted an investigation into them and the case is handed over to the national authorities. According to the Commission this is the member states’ fault, but I’m told by the member states that for their part they are extremely unhappy with the quality of the material presented by OLAF.’

The European Commission recently presented a proposal for harmonisation of the criminal law in relation to fraudulent use of EU funds, which they claim is necessary because member states are wrongly failing to follow up on OLAF’s investigations. An external enquiry would reveal whether or not the Commission is right. If that isn’t the case, the need for harmonisation of this aspect of the criminal law disappears. The same argument is used by the Commission in support of its proposal for the establishment of a European Office for Public Prosecutions. The value added of such a body would have no credibility were it to emerge that it isn’t the member states but OLAF which is presenting botched work.

With regard also to OLAF’s credibility doubts are also arising in the European Parliament. OLAF itself states that it regularly comes under pressure from the European Commission to give priority to certain investigations. This may have been the case in relation to Dalli and this could have been one factor in the sloppy, sometimes almost panic-ridden character of the enquiry. ‘The EP has still not heard from OLAF as to the extent of the Commission’s involvement in the OLAF enquiry, so we are going to be asking to hear about this from Catherine Day, Commission President Barroso’s right-hand woman. If it turns out that Barroso influenced the investigation via her, this could have far-reaching consequences for the position of Barroso himself.’

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