Updated | OLAF chief Giovanni Kessler ousted in backroom move

Media reports say that the European Commission College has lifted the immunity of EU Anti-fraud Office (OLAF) chief Giovanni Kessler

Staff Reporter
9 March 2016, 2:37pm
The European Commission has lifted the immunity of the EU Anti-fraud Office (OLAF) chief Giovanni Kessler, who could now face the Belgian prosecutor on questions related to the investigation on Malta’s former EU commissioner John Dalli.

If this is the case and it is confirmed that Kessler used illegal methods to base his case he could be liable to criminal prosecution in Belgium, clandestine monitoring or taping of phone calls is illegal.

Belgian authorities want Kessler’s immunity lifted so they can investigate allegations that he secretly listened in on a conversation between witnesses linked to the 2012 tobacco lobbying scandal known as Dalligate.

Describing the news as a “bombshell,” Green MEP Jose Bove said “I welcome this announcement pending official confirmation from the European Commission”

Writing on his Facebook page, Bove said that former European Commission president José Manuel Barroso sacked Dalli without explanation while the latter was working on a “strict” European directive on tobacco.

The French MEP said “since October 2012, I accused Mr. Kessler of having conducted an illegal investigation, adding that the findings of the “botched investigation” had been used by Barroso to unceremoniously sack Dalli.

“This decision will allow the Belgian police to interview Giovanni Kessler on many gray areas that still exist on this investigatio” Bove said.

Kessler, 56, became a household name during the Dalligate affair who alleged that Dalli was aware that his aide Silvio Zammit was using his name to extract some sort of bribe.

The conclusion of the OLAF investigation led to the forced resignation of Dalli in 2012.

The decision to revoke Kessler’s immunity was taken in a restricted session of the weekly College meeting of the European Commission on Wednesday 2 March.

According to New Europe, the meeting was attended by the 28 Commissioners, the Director-General of the Legal Service, Luis Romero Requena, and the Secretary-General of the Commission, Alexander Italianer.

Kessler was formerly an Italian MP from 2001 to 2006 of the Democratic Party (the fusion of the Democratic Left, heirs of the Italian communists, and the Margherita Party) and before that, a Christian democrat.

The European Commissioners waited more than a year to decide whether to allow Belgian prosecutors to question Kessler over allegations he broke the law.

The unusual delay raised concern among senior EU officials that the Commission is using the process of deciding whether to lift the immunity as a bargaining chip to put pressure on Kessler to step down in what has become a clash between Europe’s rival political groupings.

Under the regulation that established OLAF, Kessler cannot be fired or forced from his post without a complex disciplinary procedure. Unlike other Commission directors general, he can take legal action in EU courts if he believes a measure taken by the Commission “calls his independence into question.”

New Europe claimed that the Commission was first asked to lift Kessler’s immunity in December 2014, a request they received several times since then. The newspaper added that sources inside the Commission claimed that European Commissioner for Budget & Human Resources Kristalina Georgieva has been using Kessler’s immunity as a bargaining chip for months, actively offering him the “possibility” to resign from his post at OLAF, and take up another position in the European Commission, or see his immunity lifted.

But an OLAF spokesperson declined to comment on this matter and he European Commission has so far declined to confirm the information.