Viewed from London, the report by the Times that Nigel Farage faces an investigation by OLAF, the European Commission’s anti-fraud office, for ‘missing’ EU funds looks like a smear.
Viewed from Brussels, it looks like a joke.
Not only is it standard procedure for members of the European Parliament to be handed thousands of euro in unvouched expenses, the idea that OLAF should carry out a reliable investigation into alleged fraud by UKIP or any other anti-EU party is laughable.
OLAF and its investigations have been tainted by politics for years.
Most famous was the case of Hans-Martin Tillack, a German investigative reporter with Stern magazine, who exposed “a vast enterprise of looting” in Eurostat, the European Union’s own statistics office, in 2002.
This looting had gone undetected by OLAF.
Following Tillack’s exposure of the scandal, OLAF made unsubstantiated allegations to the Belgian police that the journalist had bribed officials to obtain documents used in his research into alleged irregularities in OLAF itself.
The police arrested Tillack and held him for several hours while his home and office were searched. Laptops and a thousand pages of documents were seized and held.
It later emerged that OLAF asked the police if they could examine the reporter’s notes.
In the end, a Belgian court dismissed all charges against Tillack for lack of evidence. In 2007 the (non-EU) European Court of Human Rights ruled that Tillack’s rights had been violated and the Belgian authorities who had acted on OLAF’s baseless accusations were forced to pay €40,000 to the reporter in damages and costs.
Last year, Green party members of the European Parliament accused OLAF of using wiretapping and “other illegal means” in an investigation which led to the “resignation” – it was in fact a sacking – of the Maltese politician John Dalli as health commissioner in October 2012.
Dalli was accused of attempting to influence tobacco legislation on behalf of a Swedish tobacco manufacturer. Dalli denied any impropriety but was forced to resign anyway.
So unsatisfactory was the final OLAF report into alleged corruption by Dalli that one German centre-right MEP said that it “confirms the impression of a biased and partly-amateurish investigation… coupled with violations of basic rights.”
Just this week in the European Parliament, Michael Theurer, a German liberal who is chairman of the budgetary-control committee, accused Martin Schulz, the German socialist who is president of the parliament, of “censoring” a report involving OLAF.
Schulz is campaigning to become next president of the commission, and OLAF is part of the commission.
Theurer attacked Schulz because he had blocked MEPs from voting on a passage added to a report on the parliament’s spending in 2012. The passage was critical of OLAF.
As for the parliament’s genuine attitude to MEPs and their money, the most telling “anti-corruption” episode at the parliament occurred in 2011, when Elmar Brok, a German euro-fanatic MEP, was protected by a parliamentary committee from charges of income tax evasion by the German revenue authorities.
In September 2010 German authorities requested the European Parliament to waive the immunity from legal proceedings enjoyed by Brok and all other MEPs. The public prosecutor of Bielefeld wanted to bring a criminal action against Brok for failure to report €5,000 he had earned for giving a speech to a Munich-based bank. Other payments were also to be investigated.
However, Enrico Speroni, the rapporteur of the committee on legal affairs of the European Parliament, who was an ally of Silvio Berlusconi’s party, wrote a report claiming that the charges were being brought only to damage Brok’s reputation.
Anyway, the Italian added, €5,000 was “a comparatively minor sum” – which tells you something about MEPs attitude towards money – so it was probably just an accident that Brok failed to declare the payment.
The committee voted unanimously to accept the report and refused to lift Brok’s immunity from charges of tax evasion.