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We return to the Tillack case

Posted by Helen Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Some stories just go on and on without getting any better. We have reported on the Tillack case from the earliest days of this blog.

We wrote of the fact that his office was raided twice, his computer confiscated, his boxes broken into. We mentioned the fact that although the raid was carried out by the Belgian police, it had been clearly initiated by OLAF, the Commission’s own anti-fraud investigative body, because Hans-Martin Tillack of Stern magazine had written some hard-hitting exposés about them.

We have also mentioned that, for some reason, the British government continued to view this matter as an internal Belgian one, until the former head of OLAF explained what happened to the House of Lords Sub-Committee.

Mr Tillack, as we reported, has received the Leipzig Prize for the Freedom and the Future of the Media, though one rather wonders whether there is much future for the freedom of the media in the EU.

At the same time the highest court in Hamburg, the Oberlandesgericht, ruled that it could not prevent present and former members of OLAF from sppreading unsubstantiated slanderous stories about the journalist, as a protocol of April 8 1965 grants EU civil servants a life-long immunity from legal proceedings “in respect of acts performed by them in their official capacity, including their words spoken or written”. And that includes setting the Belgian police at an investigative journalist.

Now, to take up the story. If national courts have no jurisdiction, reasoned Tillack and Stern, then they must go to the European Court of Justice, to ensure that the Commission will not be able to see the notes and documents the Belgian police had confiscated from the journalist. These have not been returned although he has not been charged with anything.

Last October the Court of First Instance absolved OLAF from inciting the Belgian police to arrest Mr Tillack and refused his plea that OLAF and the Commission be prevented from seeing the documents.

Now the European Court of Justice quashed Tillack’s appeal against the ruling of the Court of First Instance, in effect allowing the Commission and OLAF access to the documents and, potentially, to the names of the journalist’s sources.

So far the Commission has not asked to see anything and, in fact, the spokeswoman for the Administrative Affairs Commissar, Siim Kallas (himself in the past under investigation for improper political financial affairs in his home country) seemed to be giving muddled statements:

“For the moment the question does not arise, as the matter is still under investigation.

Press freedom and the right of journalist to protect their sources are enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.But press freedom is not granted without limitation. [Or, in other words, press freedom stops when EU officials are investigated.]

If a journalist himself becomes a suspect or is linked to an investigation, it is for the individual national authorities to decide which measures can be justified and whether they can be justified.”
Since the individual national authorities had been incited by OLAF; since no charges have been preferred; and since OLAF officials have been slandering Mr Tillack with no national authority having the right to stop them, that last statement can best be described as disingenuous.

But then, according to the same spokeswoman, “under EU staff regulations, officials are obliged to blow the whistle if they see evidence of wrongdoing”. And then they have every right to be bullied, threatened and persecuted.

Mr Tillack and his employers, backed by the European Federation of Journalist, who have been wringing their hands somewhat impotently on the sidelines, plan to go to the European Court of Human Rights, to retrieve those documents.

To be continued.