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EU court finds former Belgian minister abused office as member of Court of Auditors

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The EU’s highest court found former Belgian Minister of Defense and Agriculture Karel Pinxten “guilty of very serious infringements” in the exercise of his office as a member of the European Court of Auditors (ECA).

During his two terms at the ECA between 2006 and 2018, Pinxten, who was a member of current Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo’s Flemish liberal party Open VLD, illegally remained involved in national politics and made improper use of the ECA’s resources by charging skiing and hunting trips to the institution and using an ECA fuel card to buy fuel for others, according to the judgment by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

“It is only the second time a high-ranking EU official is taken to court over similar facts,” a spokesperson for the Court of Justice said.

The judges ordered that Pinxten lose two-thirds of his European pension rights from the day of the ruling, September 30. A criminal case is still ongoing.

One of seven EU institutions, the Luxembourg-based ECA is tasked with improving EU financial management and counts one member for each of the EU’s 27 member countries.

The judges ruled that Pinxten “purposefully and repeatedly broke the institution’s rules and thereby systematically acted in violation of his most fundamental obligations.”

“Pinxten also repeatedly tried to hide the infringements. In addition, the irregularities largely contributed to his personal enrichment,” the Court of Justice said in a statement in Dutch and French.

Other charges were dismissed, namely that Pinxten did not declare he was running a real-estate company and that he made false declarations to an insurance company.

The high court also found some mitigating factors: The quality of Pinxten’s work “was never questioned,” it said. Also, “the continuation of the irregularities was facilitated by the vagueness of the institution’s internal rules,” according to the statement.

It is the Secretary-General of the ECA itself, who after an internal investigation first turned to OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office, and later to the European Court of Justice in the case.

Upon a request by OLAF, the State Prosecutor at the District Court of Luxembourg also started investigating the case. The ECA waived Pinxten’s immunity in November 2018, and criminal proceedings have been going on since.

The ECA said the ECJ’s judgment confirms that its request regarding Pinxten “not fulfilling the obligations arising from his office as a member of the ECA was grounded.”

“The ECA will closely follow the further proceedings regarding the financial recovery and other judicial steps,” a spokesperson for the institution said.

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