THE DAILY REFORMER NEWS
The EU’s anti-fraud agency is not letting go of its campaign to get onto European Parliament property in the wake of the cash-for-influence Qatargate scandal.
OLAF, the EU agency charged with investigating corrupt uses of EU funds, re-upped its plea on Tuesday for Parliament to give it full access. The existing rules often bar OLAF investigators from searching Parliament offices or seizing IT equipment — restrictions that have faced scrutiny in the wake of the Qatargate corruption probe, which involved alleged bribes of European parliamentarians by non-EU countries like Qatar and Morocco.
Ville Itälä, head of the European Anti-Fraud Office, at a press conference on Tuesday expressed satisfaction with a recent European Parliament vote to provide OLAF with access to EU lawmakers’ offices and recognize the OLAF code of conduct.
“It’s a huge step forward, but it’s not enough yet … It needs to be implemented,” he added.
Itälä, a former Finnish MEP, has long lobbied against the fact that EU lawmaker immunity leaves OLAF at the door of the Parliament. He continues seeking to investigate the corruption scandal affecting the European Parliament since December 2021, which has come to be known as Qatargate.
“To be very clear, Qatargate is being investigated by the Belgian police and we are not part of their investigation,” Itälä said. “But it’s triggered a lot of discussion — especially in the Parliament — about what ethics means, what an ethics body can do, and what bodies like OLAF can be and can do.”
Despite existing restrictions, the EU agency has opened 16 investigations over the past year into fraudulent or irregular behavior by staff and members of the Parliament, according to its newly published 2022 annual report.
One of them involved fraud to the tune of €275,0000, with unnamed parliamentary assistants who received salaries and expense compensation “in relation to missions they did not perform, or which had no professional justification,” the report reads. The two assistants were meanwhile also involved in other professional activities, for which they had not obtained prior permission from the Parliament.
Not only did OLAF recommend that Parliament recover the overall amount of those salaries, but it also suggested disciplinary action should be taken, including for the European parliamentarian who “failed to monitor or perform any due diligence on the way the office budget was used to fund the missions of his assistants,” the report says.
Asked to provide more information about the case, Itälä and his team declined to provide specific details. They did, however, add that they are now working on similar cases in cooperation with the European Public Prosecutors Office (EPPO) — another key EU body investigating serious budgetary offenses.
The Luxembourg-based institution has opened a probe looking into two Greek EU lawmakers for potential fraudulent activities with their assistants: Maria Spyraki and former vice president of the Parliament Eva Kaili, who is a suspect in the Qatargate investigation.
“It is expected that cooperation between the two institutions, OLAF and EPPO, will grow,” the OLAF report reads.
As reported by POLITICO