"Incomprehensible" decision to cancel anti-fraud hearing

Sir Robert Atkins MEP demands Parliament leaders reconsider

BRUSSELS, 11 July 2005 -- Political leaders in the European Parliament have cancelled a hearing into a damning report by the European Ombudsman on the EU's anti-fraud office OLAF, fuelling fears of a cover-up, Sir Robert Atkins MEP said today.

In a letter to the President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell, Sir Robert called the decision to cancel the hearing "incomprehensible" and demanded the Conference of Presidents reconvene to reinstate the meeting. It was due to take place on 14 July, and the head of OLAF Franz-Hermann Bruner and Nikiforos Diamandouros, the Ombudsman, were due to attend to explain their positions.

Sir Robert has been appointed the rapporteur for the Parliament's petitions committee on the Ombudsman's report into complaints by a German journalist, Hans-Martin Tillack. The Ombudsman's report says OLAF provided incorrect and misleading information to him during his inquiry into the anti-fraud office's behaviour towards the journalist.

Sir Robert, Deputy Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament and EPP-ED Group Coordinator on the Parliament's petitions committee, has also been refused permission to begin his report.

Sir Robert said: "I don't accept the Parliament's view that there is simply not enough time to get this done. The cancellation of the hearing is a big own goal, and makes it look as though Parliament is trying to sweep this whole affair under the carpet.

"I would not be surprised if people think there is a cover-up going on here. The Parliament's political group leaders must act immediately to dispel that idea. Parliament cannot shy away from controversial issues.

"The nub of the Ombudsman's report is that OLAF has apparently behaved inappropriately and disrespectfully, and it is only fair that the head of OLAF should answer these accusations. Sidelining the petitions committee like this is unacceptable."

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