eurofraud - investigative journalist raided


In March, Belgian police arrested German journalist Hans-Martin Tillack, a correspondent of the German weekly Stern, at the request of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). They seized all his computer disks and five years' worth of investigative files detailing his sources, and accused him of bribing EU officials to gain information about corruption in the EU. Tillack had run a series of reports about fraud and waste in the EU, including exposure of scandal at the EU's statistical agency, Eurostat, which saw millions of euros siphoned off into secret bank accounts.

Tillack later asked the EU's supreme court, the European Court of Justice, to stop EU officials looking at his files. The Court backed the European Commission and rejected his application. It has torn up the journalist's right to protect his sources, which is essential to a free press. The EU will probably now use Tillack's list of contacts to identify and sack whistleblowers, making investigative journalism into the EU near-impossible.

The International Federation of Journalists said that the Court's decision was "disturbing". Raymond Kendall, a former head of Interpol, and now head of OLAF's oversight board, said that officials ordering the arrest had acted improperly, "purely on the basis of hearsay", and were "obviously" acting in collusion with Belgian police to identify Tillack's sources. He said, "OLAF can do whatever they want. There is no control whatsoever ...OLAF's D-G [Director-General] has more powers than any law enforcement chief in the world that I know of."

The Tillack case shows how EU institutions, including its supreme court, abuse their existing powers. The new EU Constitution would expand the EU's powers over crime, justice and policing and would give Eurojust, the EU judges group, the power to initiate investigations of all EU citizens.