The head of the EU anti-fraud office OLAF, Giovanni Kessler, pleaded yesterday (5 December) for the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office as a formal EU institution.
Kessler made the statement at a conference on corruption in European states organised by the European Parliament’s Socialists & Democrats group.
The OLAF chief took as an example a case involving fraud with EU funds between Germany and Bulgaria, in which the same defendants were condemned by the German court but were cleared in Bulgaria.
If the Union is unable to address the issue of corruption properly and in an efficient way “the European Union as such is at stake”, he pleaded.
Kessler stressed that corruption was now increasingly of a trans-national nature, which could not any longer be attributed to one country. He illustrated it with the case of a Bulgarian entrepreneur obtaining EU funds, by presenting fake, overinflated invoices, issued by a German company.
“What happened? Two prosecutions: one in Germany, one in Bulgaria, two court cases: one in Germany and one in Bulgaria, two different results,” Kessler said.
He didn’t give any names, but SAPARD court case is well known, as it is monitored by the European Commission under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), set in place to accompany Bulgaria’s EU accession. It concerns fraud to the level of €7.5 million involving the Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development, or SAPARD.
The main defendant, Mario Nikolov, and five other Bulgarian nationals were sentenced in 2010 to 6 to 10 years in prison. Two German nationals involved were sentenced and put in jail in their country already in 2008.
A Bulgarian appellate court acquitted Nikolov and the other defendants in September, citing procedural mistakes by prosecutors.
“We need to have a European reaction, a European answer, and the answer is to have a European Public Prosecutor’s Office in charge. This is in the European treaty, the Commission is working on it, and I hope the Parliament is also on track,” Kessler said.
Assange appears on screen in Parliament
Another speaker at the conference, investigative journalist Atanas Chobanov, who is editor of the website Bivol.com, a partner of Wikileaks. In a powerpoint presentation, he showed various cables from the US Embassy in Sofia on Borissov’s alledged murky past.
As part of his presentation, Chobanov also spoke live via Skype with the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who said that the US leaders were eager to deal with corrupt politicians across the world, in order to better control them.
Assange’s appearance on screen in Parliament infuriated the S&D group which hosted the meeting, EURACTIV has learned, as Chobanov has reportedly been told not to promote the controversial activist, who lives as a refugee in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
MEP Bill Newton-Dunn (ALDE, UK) said that in spite of the fact that his party, the Liberal Democrats, were part of the governing coalition in the United Kingdom, his country’s intended opt-out from EU cooperation on police and criminal matters was “complete insanity, the most stupid thing one could do”.
He also referred to the corruption case mentioned by Kessler, comparing it with the US outlaws Bonnie and Clyde.
MEPs and Transparency International chief of the EU office Jana Mittermaier argued to illustrate their thesis that corruption has aggravated the situation in the countries which have been mostly hit by the crisis. Mittermaiter flagged the new ranking of countries according to the perceived degree of corruption, according to which Greece has scored the worst ranking and Italy has also sank to the bottom of the table.
MEP Ana Gomes (S&D, Portugal) said she spoke in 2010 with the then-Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who told her how much the crisis had to do with the crisis, and corruption, and corruption had to do with “the capture of politicians by corrupt people”.