Frequently asked questions

OLAF /08/06
Brussels, 22 July 2008

What is “OLAF”?

“OLAF” is the acronym for the French name of the European Anti-Fraud Office: “Office européen de lutte anti-fraude.” OLAF is not a European police squad, a secret service nor a public prosecutor: OLAF is an administrative investigative service of the EU aimed at fighting fraud and corruption affecting the EU. By protecting the EU budget, OLAF works in the interest of European taxpayers. The Office was created in 1999 and is based in Brussels.

What does OLAF do?

Millions and millions of cigarettes smuggled into the EU from the Balkans; a NGO fraudulently obtaining double funding from different donors for the same development project; collusion between contractors and an EU-official who allowed them to submit excessive invoices and had them carry out private work for his own benefit: these are just three examples of over 200 cases of suspected fraud and corruption OLAF opens every year.

The mission of OLAF is to protect the financial interests of the European Union and to combat fraud, corruption and any other illegal activities, including serious misconduct within the European Institutions, which have financial consequences. In other words, OLAF protects taxpayers’ money by making sure that EU funds are properly spent, that the EU is not being deprived of its due revenues and that EU staff behave according to the rules.

OLAF is not competent to fight fraud that does not concern the budget of the European Union. In other words, EU money has to be involved. The same goes for the fight against corruption: OLAF can only investigate cases where EU staff appears to be involved.

How does OLAF work?

OLAF’s powers and tasks cover three main areas: investigations and coordination, intelligence and development of anti-fraud policy. OLAF is empowered to conduct administrative investigations but may also help Member States’ authorities by assisting them in their administrative or criminal investigations or by coordinating transnational cases.

OLAF’s investigative powers largely depend on the subject in question: EU officials may have their office searched by OLAF – but not their homes. Recipients of EU subsidies can be subject to on-the-spot checks of their businesses by OLAF investigators – but the OLAF investigators cannot force their way in; only the national authorities may do this. People who neither work for the EU nor have dealings with any EU money cannot be subject to OLAF investigations.

OLAF’s work covers all the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies funded by the EU as well as the geographical scope of the territories of the 27 Member States. OLAF can also intervene in third countries in cases where European funds are at stake and cooperation is possible with these states on the basis of agreements.

Can OLAF punish the perpetrators?

No. OLAF is only an administrative investigative service. The reports it produces at the end of an investigation merely contain recommendations. If there is evidence of a potential criminal act, then the report has to be sent to the relevant national judicial authorities. If there are evidential elements of a violation of professional rules, the disciplinary body of the affected EU institution must look into this. Independent of this, the misused funds have to be recovered by the body that originally disbursed them, e.g. by the European Commission.

What kind of European body is OLAF?

OLAF is organised as a Directorate General of the European Commission. It is under the political responsibility of the Vice-President of the European Commission who is in charge of Administration, Audit and Anti-Fraud.

However, in the fields of investigations and operations, OLAF is independent of the European Commission and does not take instructions from any other EU-institution, body, office or agency either, nor from any government.

This construction is sometimes described as a “hybrid status”.

Who are OLAF’s partners?

OLAF maintains direct contacts with its partners in the EU institutions, in the Member States and in third countries (national judicial authorities, customs, police and other administrative authorities) as well as with Eurojust, Europol and International Organisations like the UN or the World Bank. OLAF conducts investigations in cooperation with its partners, offers assistance by providing them with information gathered at Community level and coordinates operational actions in transnational cases.

Who are the people working for OLAF?

OLAF currently has around 400 staff from all over the EU. 70% of OLAF staff handles tasks related to the Office’s operational activity. With a view to OLAF’s tasks, many of them have a background as magistrates, customs officers, criminal police officers, tax inspectors, financial controllers, auditors or intelligence experts.

How much does OLAF cost to operate?

OLAF has an annual budget of over 50 million Euros. Over the period 2005-2007 more than 200 million Euros have been recovered each year following OLAF’s investigations.

Who checks the investigative work of OLAF?

Within OLAF, there are rigorous internal controls of OLAF’s investigations, based on the OLAF procedural Manual, the European Community law in place and existing fundamental rights instruments.

Judicial control over OLAF is exercised by the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg, where anybody directly affected by an OLAF action can lodge a complaint. Indirectly, the national judicial authorities of the EU Member States also check the legality of OLAF’s actions whenever OLAF’s cases are referred to them.

There is also an OLAF Supervisory Committee, composed of five independent external experts, which regularly monitors OLAF’s investigative function. On its own initiative or at the request of the Director-General, the Committee delivers opinions to the Director-General concerning the activities of the Office without, however, interfering with the conduct of investigations in progress.

How can I inform OLAF of a suspicion of fraud or corruption?

Anybody can inform OLAF about suspicions of fraud or corruption affecting the financial interests of the European Union. Staff of the European Institutions who want to inform about irregularities in their own service (whistleblowers) can receive special protection. The general rule is: the earlier and the more concrete the information, the better. If you have any documents to support your information, please provide them as well. You can approach OLAF in all official languages through these different channels:

• By letter to: European Commission, European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), Investigations+Operations, B-1049 Brussels, Belgium
• By e-mail to: OLAF-COURRIER@ec.europa.eu
• Via the freephone

All contact details:  http://ec.europa.eu/anti_fraud/contacts/index_en.htmAll available translations.

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Alessandro Butticé
Head of Spokesman, Communication and PR Unit
Tel : +32 (0)2 296.54.25
Fax : +32 (0)2 299.81.01

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