(CN) – An EU criminal court convicted and sentenced a former European Commission official to more than three years in prison for leaking confidential information to companies in exchange for money.
The man, an official at the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development office, sent secret information about cereal export refunds to agriculture commodities companies in France and the Netherlands between 1999 and 2003. He received money and in-kind benefits in exchange, according to a statement from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).
OLAF began investigating the official – whose identity has not been released – in 2000 after receiving allegations of his misconduct. The agency forwarded results of its investigation to Belgian judicial authorities in 2001, and the investigation was kept secret until police searched the man’s office at the commission in 2003, the agency said.
The commission suspended the man from his duties in 2003 and started its own disciplinary proceedings. In September 2011, the commission fired him and reduced his pension to the minimum level allowed under EU law for a 20-year period.
The criminal court sentenced the man to 40 months in prison and fined him $62,000 on June 28. The commission also fined two of the companies he leaked information to $625,000 each.
“This court ruling shows that the detection of fraud and corruption works well in the European Commission and that adequate control mechanisms are in place,” OLAF Director-General Giovanni Kessler said in a statement. “OLAF investigates all serious cases of professional misconduct in the European institutions. Corruption cases are a relatively small but important part of our investigative mandate which goes beyond the EU institutions and includes the protection of EU funds across the globe. In the current economic climate, the fight against fraud and corruption is more important than ever.”
The commission said it has taken precautions to reduce the risk of similar crimes occurring. Its agriculture department has separated export refund administration from market management duties, and the commission instituted agency-wide mobility rules which restrict a person from occupying sensitive positions for more than five years.
“The Commission has a zero tolerance approach to corruption,” the commission said in a statement. “EU officials have an obligation to report possible cases of fraud, corruption or professional misconduct and all serious allegations are investigated by OLAF. As a result of this approach, cases of corruption in the EU Institutions are rare.”