Thursday, December 10, 1998

The Story of Paul van Buitenen

Campaign: Europa Transparant


Paul van Buitenen was a Dutch assistant auditor in the European Commission's Financial Control Directorate becoming the whistleblower who first drew the attention of a Member of the European Parliament to the irregularities, fraud and mismanagement within the Commission. He was suspended, had his salary halved and ordered to face disciplinary action. He fought on and his exposures triggered the collapse of Jacques Santer's Commission, of which Edith Cresson was particularly criticised.

To: Magda Aelvoet, President of the Greens in the European Parliament.

Forward: The presidents of the other political groups in the EP and the co-ordinators of the political groups in the Budget Control Committee.

From: Paul van Buitenen, assistant of the Internal Audit Unit in DG XX - Financial Control of the European Commission

Subject: How the European Commission deals with its internal irregularities and fraud.

Dear Magda, dear Members of the European Parliament,

It is with deep regret that I write this letter to you. As Commission official, I am not allowed under the staff regulations, to address myself directly to the European Parliament, on internal Commission matters. This subject, however, appears to surpass what could normally be designated 'internal' since the credibility and future of the Commission is at stake. This letter is the only way left open to me, to ensure that the Parliament is properly informed on the way the European Commission is dealing with its internal cases of irregularities and fraud.

As assistant internal auditor, I have expressed in a long series of internal notes and meetings my discontent with the way the Commission services are dealing with irregularities and possible fraud within the Leonardo da Vinci programme.

To broaden the picture, I looked also into other cases of fraud and irregularities within the Commission, to see whether this approach was similar in other cases. I was a member of the audit teams in the special audits of Tourism and Leonardo. I am also in charge of the Security Office file of our Unit. In our internal audit unit, audits are performed on all the departments of the European Commission. As I have spoken to many of my colleagues in my unit, but also in other units and DG's, I have been therefore in a "privileged position" to witness the incompetence and unwillingness of the Commissions administration to deal efficiently with fraud and irregularities, despite the persistence and willingness of my colleagues in DG IX, DG XX and UCLAF.

In fact, the result of this short and personal exercise was astonishing. Many indications were found that the Commission services did not deal efficiently with irregularities and fraud. In those cases, where good audit reports were written, and good administrative enquiries were undertaken, the UCLAF-, Financial Control- and DG IX hierarchy were not willing to give these exercises the proper follow-up. The situation around the Leonardo audit is not an isolated case. Also in the case of Tourism, ECHO, OPETS, MED, JRC, Security Office, etc. similar inefficiency is shown within the Commission administration, notably by the hierarchy. I refer to the continuation of this letter for a detailed description of the proceedings in each of these cases. This letter is an updated version of the document that was sent on 30.11.98 to Mr. Trojan and on 01.12.98 to President Santer and commissioners Gradin and Liikanen (annex-4).

I decided to present this picture, as incomplete as it may be, but to the best of my knowledge, on 30 November, to the Secretary-general of the European Commission, Mr. Trojan (annex-1). At the same time, I requested to inform the Cocobu by transmitting certain specified and existing internal Commission documents. The only answer I got, was the promise that Mr. Trojan would forward my findings to the Financial Control, to UCLAF and to DG IX, which are precisely the same services that were supposed to handle these cases before (annex-2). Furthermore, the Secretary-general threatened me with a disciplinary procedure if I would dare to pass this information myself to the Parliament. As chairman of the disciplinary committee he would recommend dismissal from the Commission services. This fact was later denied by Mr. Trojan in writing (annex-3).

On 31.03.1998, my Director wrote to me (annex-5) saying that I had informed my hierarchy sufficiently of irregularities in DG XXII and that I was discharged from any further obligation under article 21 of the staff regulations (annex-6). I replied in writing, that as a loyal official and as a Christian, I consider myself never discharged from the obligation to counsel my hierarchy and if necessary the proper authorities (annex-7).

I have made repeated requests, throughout the year, to my Director, to Mrs. Ventura and finally to Mr. Trojan, to adapt the scope of the Leonardo audit to the indications towards irregularities and fraud. In May 1998, the Commission refused to take into account the recommendation to postpone the approval on Leonardo-II to be able to take on board any results from the Leonardo-I audit (annex-8).

Following the Commissions reluctance to inform the Parliament, I have proposed on several occasions to inform the Parliament myself, especially after the summer break (annex-9) and on 28.10.98, before the plenary debate on Leonardo-II on 05.11.98 (annex-10). Each time, and notably on 03.11.98, just before the first reading on Leonardo-II, my hierarchy denied me the right to inform the parliament (annex-11).

The European Parliament is the only body with the power to grant discharge on the Commission budget. The Parliament is entitled to dispose of all the information necessary to be able to make a well informed decision. As established, that the Commission does not provide the Parliament with all the necessary information and even withholds certain information from the Parliament that could cause the Parliament to change its opinion on the granting of the discharge, I have decided to inform the Parliament myself, to the best of my knowledge, under reference to article 21 of the staff regulations. This article enables Commission staff to go against hierarchy instructions if hierarchy has been properly notified before and if these instructions are in breach of criminal law (annex-6). In that case, every citizen is obliged to inform the proper authorities.

A copy of this letter and its annexes will also be sent to the European Court of Auditors, with the request to start an investigation.

Magda, I hope that you and the other members of the European Parliament will appreciate the seriousness of the situation described in this letter, and will act with courage and strength in order to give a new impulse towards a more open co-operation between the European institutions.

Yours sincerely,

Paul van Buitenen


I was not the author, nor did I contribute to the contents, or deliver any document, regarding the anonymous note on Leonardo da Vinci, that was sent to the members of Parliament 6 weeks ago.

I am forced to leave out some names of this report to you in order not to harm the rights of individuals and in order to be able to defend myself against possible judicial or disciplinary procedures that would be launched against me. The names of those who have been cited already in the press or in parliamentary papers have not been deleted.

Warning (!) : Please treat the attached annexes (apart from the included press articles) with extreme confidentiality, as these include draft audit reports, administrative enquiry data, confidential and internal notes that mention the names of individual staff. Exposure of this information causes interference with possible judicial procedures that would follow, and might harm the interests of the individuals concerned.


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