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Monday, September 08, 2008

Keep the champagne on ice

Yesterday the Sunday Times ran a story under the under the headline "Mandelson official in cash for secrets row". They reported that:

The Sunday Times tape-recorded Fritz-Harald Wenig, a trade director, passing secrets to undercover reporters posing as lobbyists for a Chinese businessman seeking insider information.

Wenig discussed the possibility of payment or taking a lucrative job with the businessman. He said he would decide further once he had provided “results”.

He leaked the names of two Chinese companies likely to get special status if the EU imposes a protective tariff barrier against Chinese candle-makers. The information is potentially worth millions to those trading with these companies.

At the Commission's midday press briefing today they said that OLAF have opened up a file on the case. That *could* be the precursor to opening up an official investigation.

Don't hold your breath waiting for heads to roll though.

Firstly, the Commission are behaving rather defensively. Having been approached about the case they put round a press release late on Friday to try and undermine the Sunday Times exclusive. This is exactly the kind of behaviour which makes journalists wary about contacting politicians and officials to give them right of reply. It's really bad practice.

Secondly, OLAF is not exactly known for its ruthless pursuit of bent officials.

The head of the troubled agency has been hauled up by MEPs for obstructing investigations, and attacked by the EU Ombudsman for his handling of the Tillack case. Member states asked for him to be sacked, but the Commission refused, despite leaked OLAF documents which showed that that the agency conducts “fake investigations”.

Our prediction? They will kick this into the long grass, and the official will keep his job.

Then again, perhaps we will be proved wrong...

PS - the EU's ludicrous tariffs on Chinese candle-makers may remind the economic historians among you of a certain parable.

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