Europe hunts OLAF director

The European Commission is actively seeking a qualified accountant for the position of director of its new fraud-busting unit, OLAF.

In a move which acknowledges the widespread criticism of the lack of qualified accountants working in Brussels, a Commission spokesman said the appointment offered the profession a chance to add valuable skills to the unit.

It would also counter concerns that no accountants were chosen to sit on the supervisory committee of OLAF.

The five committee members, who will have independent powers to monitor OLAF, are dominated by legal professionals, while one member is secretary-general of Interpol.

This is despite recognition from Brussels that the lack of qualified accountants and auditors contributed to the mismanagement of millions of euros, which led to the entire top level of the commission resigning in disgrace in March.

One Brussels-based insider said: ‘When you look at the supervisory committee, there is no one with an accountancy background. It is quite astounding and they have got to have some balance. They need to appoint somebody as director who has experience in financial issues, or they could get into trouble.’

He said the five had been chosen because of OLAF’s role in detecting and prosecuting fraudsters, which requires a detailed knowledge of the law in different member states.

But he said that the process of choosing a director, which will be conducted via an open selection through responses to an advertisement placed in the Official Journal of the European Communities, offered an opportunity for accountants.

‘This position could be particularly suitable for forensic accountants used to legal systems in different jurisdictions,’ he said.

The council of member states’ finance ministers – Ecofin – last week recommended that a candidate be chosen as soon as possible. Any appointment would require the opinion of the supervisory committee.

A comprehensive report on the state of the implementation of OLAF will be presented to Ecofin on 8 October and it is hoped that the process will be finalised by 1 November.

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