Lobbyist’s SMS-gate suit against von der Leyen not yet processed
Two months after its submission to a Belgian court, the complaint filed by a Belgian lobbyist against European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen remains at the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO).
On 5 April, Frédéric Baldan, a Belgian lobbyist, filed a complaint against von der Leyen to an investigating judge in Liège, Belgium, in a case that could see her immunity lifted and text messages exchanged with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla examined. He accuses her of “usurpation of functions and title,” “destruction of public documents,” and “illegal taking of interests and corruption”.
According to the lobbyist, during the COVID-19 pandemic, von der Leyen acted outside EU treaties and beyond her mandate on behalf of the member states, including Belgium, while negotiating vaccine contracts. He notably points to a mega-contract negotiated via text with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.
Regarding the controversial text messages which have already been requested by the European Ombudsman and the European Court of Auditors – in vain – Baldan argues that if von der Leyen deleted them, this would amount to destroying administrative documents.
If she simply does not want to disclose them, the lobbyist says von der Leyen, as a public official, would have arbitrarily infringed the rights enshrined in the Constitution – a criminal offence under the Belgian criminal code.
EU Administrative documents, regardless of their medium are accessible to any EU citizen upon request, as per article 42 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
And if von der Leyen refuses to reveal the messages because they are private, they would show an intimate relationship between von der Leyen and Bourla, which would mean a conflict of interest in contract negotiations.
No progress on the complaint yet
The investigating judge has yet to conduct any investigative duties. He has only forwarded the complaint to the Liège Public Prosecutor’s Office so that it can determine its territorial jurisdiction and assess the potential criminal offences reported.
However, the EPPO is to be notified by national public prosecutors.
The second scenario is where the EPPO does not take up Baldan’s complaint, meaning it would be dealt with in Liège, where the complaint was filed.
If filings are done this way, and in that situation, one of two things can happen. Either the judge who registered the complaint will lead the investigation himself, or the Liège Public Prosecutor’s Office will deem itself not territorially competent.
The last scenario could be possible since the lobbyist lives in the province of Liège, but EU institutions are located in Brussels, where the alleged criminal acts occurred. In that case, the Liège Public Prosecutor’s Office would request that the Council Chamber transfer the case to the Brussels judiciary.
(Anne-Sophie Gayet | EURACTIV.com)