Employees of the Valletta-based European Union Asylum Agency have written anonymously to the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, and the EU highest institutions to complain that the agency has, among other things, hired people who were linked to “corruption cases publicly reported across Maltese media”.
The complaint, sent out anonymously to the EU’s highest echelons by employees and reported in The Financial Times on Tuesday, fails to mention the specific Maltese employees in question or the corruption cases in which they are involved.
And with a staff complement of over 2,000 at the EUAA, it would be exceedingly difficult to pinpoint the exact employees they say are linked to cases of corruption, which riddle almost every corner of the country.
The employees, in their letter of complaint, allege the Agency engaged in nepotism and mishandled even more harassment claims after the last harassment debacle that cost the agency’s last director his job.
The complaint, which the FT reports but does not publish in full, also alleges that some relatives of managers at the Agency were allowed to “skip the queue” in their quest for employment.
As in the cases the corruption claims, the anonymous disgruntled employees did not specifically name the people who were recruited injudiciously.
The allegations involve EUAA’s executive director Nina Gregori, who is three years into the job where she had been charged with redeeming the agency’s reputation and credibility.
The need was seen after it took a heavy blow when the former head resigned under a dark cloud of harassment accusations, which were reported by The Shift in November 2018.
Gregori, a Slovenian who took the helm in 2019 after her predecessor José Carreira abruptly departed in the face of harassment accusations. The Agency was renamed earlier this year – from the former nomenclature of the European Asylum Support Office – and was given a bolstered mandate.
According to an excerpt reported by the FT, “Gregori has now set up a complex system of legal structures and controls that give an appearance of compliance and regularity but that, in reality, hide and cover all the Agency’s irregularities”, and she has made it practically impossible to alert “the Management Board, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the public.”
They allege Gregori rapidly promoted friends’ careers in contravention of EU rules and that she retained employees for longer than the durations in their temporary contracts.
In a statement to the FT, Gregori and senior managers “strongly refute the anonymous allegations of gross irregularities and are saddened” by the attacks.
They also criticised “the repeated use of factual inaccuracies and the distortion of facts intended to damage the good reputation that the Agency and its staff have been steadily building over the past three years”.
The Agency’s management said it would have no problem collaborating with Olaf. European Parliament Budgetary Control Committee chair Monika Hohlmeier, who also received the complaint, said, “I am of the firm opinion that serious allegations of misconduct at any EU institution, body or agency should always be thoroughly checked and investigated.”
The anonymous employees did not allege any sort of financial fraud. Still, they did contend that the salaries paid because of the wrongful appointments were unjustified in terms of “the fraudulent use of EU budget channelled into irregular salary payments” for dozens of managers.
OLAF has confirmed the receipt of the complaint and said it is evaluating its “potential investigative interest according to standard procedures”.
The European Commission has also received the complaint and said that Olaf would analyse “potential investigative interest” and follow-up actions.
The complaint also targets a certain Mark Camilleri, who they say was the subject of harassment complaints from five staff members over the last three years. Camilleri denied all the accusations included in the complaint, the EUAA said.