A former European Commission official was sentenced on Wednesday by a criminal court in Brussels to 40 months’ imprisonment and €50 000 in fines for leaking confidential information to private companies in exchange for payments. Two of these companies were each fined €500 000. The successful prosecution in this case was the result of investigations carried out by both OLAF and judicial authorities in Belgium.
“This court ruling shows that the detection of fraud and corruption works well in the European Commission, and that adequate control mechanisms are in place. OLAF investigates all serious cases of professional misconduct in the European institutions. Corruption cases are a relatively small but important part of our investigative mandate which goes beyond the EU institutions and includes the protection of EU funds across the globe. In the current economic climate, the fight against fraud and corruption is more important than ever,” said OLAF Director-General Giovanni Kessler.
Between 1999 and 2003, an official at the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI) sent confidential information on export refunds for cereals to companies specialised in the marketing of agricultural commodities in France and the Netherlands in exchange for payments and benefits in kind.
OLAF received allegations against this official in 2000 and soon after opened an investigation. OLAF forwarded the results of its investigation to the Belgian judicial authorities in May 2001. The investigation was kept secret until 2003 when the Belgian police searched Commission premises.
The official was immediately suspended from his duties in 2003. The Investigation and Disciplinary Office of the Commission started disciplinary proceedings as soon as compelling evidence resulting from the investigations was available. In September 2011, the official was dismissed and his civil service pension was reduced to the minimum possible amount for a period of 20 years.
The Commission has taken a number of precautionary measures to reduce the risk of similar crimes recurring. The concerned Commission service, DG AGRI, has separated tasks related to the administration of market measures such as export refunds from the responsibilities for market monitoring and management. Moreover, the Commission has introduced rules on mobility, in all services, which no longer allow the same person to occupy a sensitive post for more than 5 years.
The Commission has a zero tolerance approach to corruption. EU officials have an obligation to report possible cases of fraud, corruption or professional misconduct and all serious allegations are investigated by OLAF. As a result of this approach, cases of corruption in the EU Institutions are rare.
OLAF The mission of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) is threefold: it protects the financial interests of the European Union (EU) by investigating fraud, corruption and any other illegal activities; it detects and investigates serious matters relating to the discharge of professional duties by members and staff of the EU institutions and bodies that could result in disciplinary or criminal proceedings; and it supports the European Commission in the development and implementation of fraud prevention and detection policies.