The European Commission may have finally sacked whistleblower Marta Andreasen – but the former chief accountant is apparently not finished with her revelations.
After two years of suspension on full pay, Andreasen is reported to have amassed at least 100 sensitive documents on the state of finances at the European Union.
Some of the papers are so sensitive that they have to be stored in a bank vault.
Making that kind of information public is fighting talk. And even though Andreasen has been quoted as saying she has yet to decide how to use them, today she is expected to throw her lot in with UK Independence Party MEP Ashley Mote, who will demand the Serious Fraud Office investigates the government for failing to properly manage the use of British funds by the commission.
The move represents the latest in a series of efforts by Andreasen to put the spotlight firmly on the management of EU money. She told Accountancy Age: ‘For years now, the European Court of Auditors has been saying that the EU’s accounts are flawed and that 90% of the budget is deemed to be illegal.’
She said that the aim of today’s action was to get the UK to withhold payments into the EU budget, and further campaign efforts may be aimed at other member states.
Last week, the whistleblower was fired from her job as EU chief accountant following an extraordinary meeting of the new EU commissioners – a move that finally ended her search for reinstatement.
Paul Van Buitenen, the EU whistleblower who forced the resignation of the commission led by Jacques Santer and another Accountancy Age Personality of the Year, was reinstated early last year.
As an accountant, Andreasen refused to back down in her criticisms of the EU. She told Accountancy Age last year: ‘I’m not prepared to give up because there has been a lot of damage to my reputation. I asked the commission to protect me, but it refused.’
She has never shyed away from pressing her concerns and never considered turning a blind eye.
‘I had to make a decision whether I was prepared to act on my principles,’ she said.
Indeed, the commission’s point – or rather the point of Neil Kinnock, the commissioner in charge of financial reform in the wake of the Santer resignations – was that by going public, Andreasen had breached the trust between an employer and employee.
Andreasen was suspended, not because her accusations were wrong, but because her working relationships had broken down at the EU. Refusing to sign off the 2001 accounts sealed her fate.
The relationship problems behind Andreasen’s suspension were reinforced by events within the EU. In March last year, a report by Jules Muis, the commission’s then chief internal auditor, described her allegations as ‘factually substantive and correct’.
As the man responsible for cleaning up the World Bank, his comments were immensely supportive.
The European Court of Auditors has also levelled serious and consistent criticism at the EU accounts having been qualified for nine years in a row.
This fact was noted by the UK National Audit Office, which raised consistent concerns about the management of EU finances.
But though Andreasen may have been vindicated by these supporting factors, they were not enough to save her from the axe.
And what lies ahead for Andreasen?
For the past 18 months, she admits she has been working on the upcoming campaign with Ashley Mote of UKIP. Many of her carefully stored sensitive documents may be used to boost his case.
She will need to take care that this alliance does not appear ill considered.
On the face of it, the SFO appears unlikely to consider seriously investigate the government, and it would be a shame if the public support that has been built up by Andreasen was undermined by something that could be viewed as a fringe activity.
Mote told Accountancy Age that he was inviting the SFO to undertake a criminal investigation because he alleges that ‘the British government has been culpably negligent in that it knows there has been fraud and corruption endemically entrenched in the EU’s accounting system and they have chosen to do nothing about it’.
He believes that the UK has a ‘duty of care’ to tackle the financial crisis at the EU.
One thing remains clear, however, Andreasen seems determined to continue pressing her claims that the EU’s accounts are in drastic need of reform.
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