An investigation into one of the top European officials tasked with auditing the European Union’s finances found misuse of resources and public assets totalling hundreds of thousands of euros, BuzzFeed News has learned.
According to a well-placed source, who came forward on condition of anonymity, an investigation completed late last month into the former Belgian member of the 28-strong European Court of Auditors, Karel Pinxten, found that there had been abuse of court assets, such as organisational resources, expenses, and allowances, totalling about €500,000 during his time in office.
It is not known whether he has responded to the allegations in the report, but the EU's anti-fraud office, OLAF, told BuzzFeed News: “As in all OLAF investigations, the persons concerned were granted the opportunity to comment on the facts concerning them.”
The source also claimed that the court was keeping the findings of the investigation under wraps.
The European Court of Auditors (ECA), which is the EU’s independent external auditor and defines itself as the “guardian of the EU’s finances”, denied that it was sitting on the report. Citing legal reasons, a spokesperson said the court could not make public the findings of the investigation.
“We can confirm that we have received a report from OLAF concerning a former member of the ECA. It is completely unacceptable for any public servant to abuse his or her position in order to obtain financial benefit and we view with grave concern any waste or misuse of European taxpayers’ money. We are determined that the ultimate cost of this matter to the public purse will be zero and we will recover any money claimed illegally,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that the court will address all the issues contained in the report as a matter of urgency but could not comment further at this stage for legal reasons.
The court did not confirm nor deny whether Pinxten is the subject of the OLAF report.
The EU’s anti-fraud office declined to provide details of its findings but confirmed that it concluded its investigation in June.
A spokesperson said: “The initial allegations were submitted to OLAF by the European Court of Auditors. Throughout the investigation, the Court of Auditors fully cooperated with OLAF. The OLAF investigation found an abuse of the European Court of Auditors assets, as well as infringements of ethical obligations.”
The spokesperson added: “Upon conclusion of the investigation, OLAF addressed recommendations to the European Court of Auditors and to the judicial authorities of Luxembourg for possible follow-up.”
The anti-fraud office also noted that as a general rule it does not make its final case reports public in order to protect individual rights and confidentiality requirements, as well as possible ensuing investigations by authorities competent for any possible follow-up.
The ECA's role is to check that EU funds within the plethora of European institutions are correctly accounted for, and are raised and spent in accordance with the relevant rules and regulations. Part of its mission is to improve the EU’s financial management and promote accountability and transparency.
The court referred the case of Pinxten to the European anti-fraud office in October 2016 after several whistleblowers had come forward during the summer of that year.
On 29 November 2017, anti-fraud offices reportedly raided the premises of the court as part of the investigation into the now-former Belgian member.
In a statement at the time, the court said it had “received allegations from several whistleblowers regarding one of its members, Mr Karel Pinxten”, according to reports in Euractiv.
The investigation has also been reported in Belgian media.
ECA members are nominated by the EU’s 28 member states, with one member from each country filling the court’s posts. The Belgian government replaced Pinxten, who is also Belgium’s former agriculture and defence minister, earlier this year after the European Parliament had issued a negative opinion over Pinxten’s candidacy for a third term at the court.
BuzzFeed News has attempted to contact Pinxten through the Court of Auditors and a Belgian environmental organisation of which he’s the honorary chair, but had received no response by the time of publication.