Monday, July 19, 2004

Bertelsmann fights back

Europe’s biggest publishing company, Bertelsmann, the parent company of the news magazine Stern is taking the Commission to the European Court of Justice. Understandably, the company is not best pleased that its star investigative journalist, Hans-Martin Tillack had had his home raided, his files confiscated and his good name impugned.
Though Herr Tillack has been accused of bribing OLAF officials, he has not been charged with any offence. It seems that OLAF’s own officials passed information on to the Belgian police urging it to confiscate documents and demand information on the sources of Tillack’s stories.
OLAF, the Commission’s anti-fraud body is seen, on the basis of information and documents acquired by Herr Tillack, as inefficient and corrupt, and its watchdog committee has been described as being “out of control”.
According to an article in this morning’s Times,  
At the court hearing tomorrow, Stern is expected to demand that the Commission, which runs Olaf, is barred from getting access to its documents, annuls the transfer of documents to the Belgian authorities, and pays €250,000 (£166,000) in damages.
Stern has also launched cases against the Belgian prosecutor’s office, against Franz-Hermann Brüner, the head of OLAF for slander and against Joachim Gross, a former Commission spokesman who first spread the story of the alleged bribes paid to OLAF officials. Gross maintains that he had heard this from an editor at Stern, who denies the story. A German court has ordered Joachim Gross to desist from repeating the accusation.
The first hearing is tomorrow and this will be followed by a court case that will investigate whether the Commission and OLAF had acted responsibly.
As the author of the article Anthony Browne adds wryly:  
The court case could seriously damage the credibility of the Commission and hinder its attempts to give the EU more powers of prosecution.
Indeed, it could. And we wouldn’t want that.
Click here to read the full story.

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