Giovanni Kessler, the director general of the EU’s anti-fraud office Olaf, has “strongly rejected” allegations that Olaf acted illegally during investigations relating to the departure of EU health commissioner John Dalli.
In a statement, published yesterday (23 April), Kessler denied allegations that the anti-fraud body had “made false statements in one of its reports, had influenced a witness to make a false statement to the European Parliament, and had acted illegally in other ways”.
The statement was published following a meeting of the Parliament’s budgetary control committee during which the Olaf supervisory committee published its annual report.
The anti-fraud office has come under fire from the Parliament since October 2012 for its role in the departure of Dalli from the European Commission. The commissioner’s exit came amid allegations he was aware of an attempt by an associate to extract money from a tobacco company in return for influence on legislation. These allegations were based on an Olaf investigation into tobacco lobbying.
However, the events surrounding Dalli’s departure have remained unclear, despite an on-going investigation by the Parliament’s budgetary control committee.
In the statement, Kessler acknowledges that 2012 was a difficult year for Olaf, because “the arrival of a new supervisory committee had coincided with a significant change in working methods, and with a substantial reorganisation of the office.”
More recently, Olaf has faced mounting criticism from the Maltese press on the basis of allegations that interviews conducted by Olaf during 2012 were not carried out according to proper procedure. Olaf also denies these allegations, stating in a statement from 19 April that: “throughout the investigation, all interviews were carried out in full accordance with Olaf procedures and legal requirements.”
On 23 April reports emerged from media outlet EUobserver alleging that the Olaf supervisory committee’s report, presented to the Parliament, showed the anti-fraud office “violated its mandate and broke EU laws” during its investigations.
In its latest announcement, Olaf states: “the supervisory committee’s report made no such claims”. Kessler says he regrets that “misleading information and leaks had been circulated in an attempt to present the report as making statements which it did not in fact make, in particular concerning violation of fundamental rights and procedural guarantees".
Following the budgetary control committee meeting, MEPs have further criticised Olaf’s role in the Dalli case and called for Kessler’s resignation. A 23 April statement from Green MEPs Bart Staes, vice-chair of the budgetary control committee, and José Bové, vice-chair of the agriculture committee, says: “The latest evidence to emerge about the role Olaf played in the ‘Dalligate’ controversy makes Giovanni Kessler’s position as Olaf director general untenable.”
German MEP Inge Gräßle, who is also on the budgetary control committee, said: “"Following today’s disclosure by the Olaf supervisory committee of mismanagement by Olaf, the Commission President José Barroso must take the necessary steps to force Olaf director-general Giovanni Kessler to resign.” This followed a statement last week from Gräßle, a member of the conservative European People’s Party group, which accused Kessler of “serious transgressions”.
According to Staes and Bové, “the case has wider implications for the EU institutions and those officials involved, as well as for applicable rules on ethics, transparency and lobbying”. Previously, the Green party has called for a special Parliament committee to investigate the affair and other issues of lobbying transparency, which was rejected by other political parties.