Former EU auditor’s pension cut for expenses abuse

An auditor of EU finances accused of fraudulently claiming €570,000 in expenses for hunting trips, holidays in Cuba and Switzerland, fuel for his son’s car and the purchase of a vineyard in Burgundy, will lose two-thirds of his pension after a ruling by the union’s highest court.

Karel Pinxten, a former Belgian government minister, was paid €17,000 a month after tax when he worked as a member of the EU’s court of auditors for 12 years. On Thursday his appeal against the cut to his pension, on right to privacy grounds among others, was thrown out by the European court of justice (ECJ).

The court agreed with an investigation by the EU anti-fraud office, Olaf, that Pinxten had, through his improper expense claims, acted in breach of his obligations as a member of the EU auditing body, the guardian of the bloc’s financial affairs. His request for a stay of proceedings until a criminal case against him had concluded was also rejected.

The charge sheet against Pinxten, who worked at the EU court of auditors (ECA) between 2006 and 2018, included improper expense claims for a holiday to the Swiss mountain resort of Crans-Montana, several hunting trips including three in Chambord in France, a stay in Cuba from 30 March to 14 April 2015, and attendance at friends’ receptions or weddings.

The ECA further alleged, on the basis of the Olaf report, that Pinxten had also asked for “repayments and payments for activities relating to his personal interests, in particular in connection with the purchase of a vineyard”.

He was said to have made false insurance claims in relation to his chauffeur-driven company car, including over an incident in which the vehicle was said to have driven over a suitcase containing a wine bottle that, it was claimed, destroyed several pieces of clothing. He is also said to have misused fuel cards.

The court of auditors told the ECJ that Pinxten had further shown disregard for his need to avoid conflicts of interest when he offered a private apartment for rent to the then High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini.

Pinxten, who is a baron, had argued that all the complaints were unfounded and that “the facts are, to a very large extent, not established”. He claims that the Olaf report on which the ECA had based their sanction was unlawful as it irregularly extended the scope of its investigation, breached his right to privacy by taking away private files and failed to properly take into account his defence.

Olaf estimates the financial loss that Pinxten, a member of the Flemish conservative Open Vld party, would have cost the taxpayer at €570,000. The ECA reduced that amount to €160,000 in its claim to the court, which found in the EU organisation’s favour and additionally threw out Pinxten’s claim for €50,000 in compensation.


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