NEWS

OLAF raided EU border chief’s office over migrant pushback claims

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The EU’s anti-fraud watchdog, OLAF, raided the offices of Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri, as well as his head of Cabinet Thibauld de La Haye Jousselin, on December 7, 2020, as part of an investigation into allegations of migrant pushbacks, according on a document obtained by Kathimerini.

As claimed by the author of the document, who has knowledge of the inner workings of Frontex, Leggeri “actively resisted” the recruitment of the required 40 fundamental rights officers provided for in the regulation of the new  European Border and Coast Guard Agency, answering frequent questions from agency staff in early 2020 that “it is not a priority.”

In addition, the author states that the executive director “repeatedly made it clear to staff” that “Frontex is not an expensive lifeguard service,” and staff in operations had been made to understand that “reporting pushbacks involving Frontex personnel is not a route to popularity or promotion” within the agency.

At the same time, reporting of incidents is “intentionally centralized to be slow, cumbersome and very discreet,” according to the same document.

The author also accuses the Frontex chief executive of being in charge of a “comically incompetent” human resources department, which last October told 400 candidates that they had been hired for the agency’s standing corps (Europe’s first uniformed law enforcement service), only to withdraw the job offers the next day.

At the same time, it is reported that no provision has been made for the new border guards to cary firearms legally over EU borders.

Asked by Kathimerini on Tuesday if Leggeri continues to enjoy the trust of the European Commission, a spokesperson distanced himself, expressing confidence that the all issues that have risen will be resolved with the cooperation of both the executive director and Frontex’s board of directors of Frontex.

Both OLAF and Frontex confirmed that the investigation is underway. “OLAF can confirm that it has opened an investigation concerning Frontex. However, as an investigation is on-going, OLAF cannot issue any further comment,” the OLAF press office told Kathimerini.

On its side, a Frontex spokesperson said: “In keeping with its policy of transparency, Frontex is cooperating fully with OLAF. OLAF visits to EU agencies, institutions and entities are a normal practice of good governance. It’s important to note that such visits do not necessarily imply any malpractice.”

Speaking at the European Parliament in December 2020, Leggeri had dismissed media reports that Frontex officers had been involved in pushbacks, arguing that “we have not found evidence” of such incidents.

However, the Party of European Socialists had called for his resignation, while the Greens has called for an investigation by the European Parliament.

The EU border agency is also investigating pushback allegations.