Senior EU officials are being probed over their tax affairs
In a bombshell move the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) announced it is forensically examining the accounts of several top EU officials and civil servants over revelations contained in the Panama Papers.
An astonishing 40,000 people connected to the European Union were named in the massive document leak, which showed how the rich and famous had been using secret offshore accounts to dodge paying their fair share of tax.
Only one of those has been publicly named – the Dutch former Commissioner Neelie Kroes – but the number is believed to include EU Commission officials, contractors and politicians.
The initial OLAF probe will focus on 17 individuals of particular interest, although French media reported that “other investigations may follow” in the near future.
Dutch former Commissioner Neelie Kroes is the only EU official to be named so far
None of the names of those being investigated have been published and none have been found guilty of any wrongdoing. OLAF has wide-ranging powers to seize documents and interrogate suspects and witnesses.
The fraud watchdog’s Director-General, Giovanni Kessler, told French newspaper La Tribune he was pleased that “so few cases” related to Brussels had been raised.
However, alarmingly he revealed that it was the first time EU staff involved in the Panama Papers leak had been probed, saying “no EU member state had carried out any such checks”.
The revelations come at a difficult time for the EU, with Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker still dogged by questions about his time as prime minister of Luxembourg.
Last week the top eurocrat had to appear before a European Parliament committee into the Panama Papers at which he was grilled at length over his homeland’s status as a tax haven.
Mr Juncker has previously been accused of presiding over “sweetheart” deals which allowed corporations based in Luxembourg to pay virtually no tax, allegations he strongly denies.
Get Quotes on Home Insurance
There is no suggestion that the EU Commission president is involved in the OLAF investigation.
Celebrities named in Panama Papers leak Wed, May 11, 2016
Emma Watson, David Cameron & Heather Mills among some of the celebrities named in the leaked Panama Papers published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)
1 of 10
In a plea to MEPs to move on, he told the May 31 hearing: “I understand that you want to better understand the past. But please do not judge me against this measuring stick.
“We should measure the credibility of the Commission based on what it is doing now.
“You have to have in mind that these mentions of member states relate to the past. We were living in a totally different world from the one we are in now.”
The EU Chief is seen in Brussels as something of a poacher turned gamekeeper on tax, and recently unveiled a series of tough new proposals to crack down on tax havens.
Amongst the measures are plans to go after lawyers who facilitate personal and corporate tax avoidance, a move which has been heavily criticised within the legal industry.