* EU fraud office makes biggest ever haul
* But says tip-offs by public institutions slide
* EU parliament members unhappy about office searches
By Ethan Bilby
BRUSSELS, July 3 The European Union's anti-fraud
body recovered a record 691 million euros ($870 million) last
year, it said on Tuesday, but expressed concern that public
bodies were getting more reluctant to tip it off for fear of
damaging national reputations.
The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) - which investigates
fraudulent use of EU funds and wrongdoing within EU institutions
- saw an increase in private tip-offs thanks to a new Internet
notification system, it said in its 2011 annual report.
But information from EU institutions and member states was
becoming more scarce, said OLAF's director-general.
"This decrease in information from public authorities
worries us," Giovanni Kessler told reporters.
Many of the larger fraud cases concern EU Structural Funds,
which pay for regional infrastructure projects and are overseen
by member states. One such investigation, into the financing of
road works in Italy, yielded 389 million euros in recovered EU
funds last year.
Member states may under-report instances of fraud to give
the appearance of better ranking in corruption tables, but the
growing cross-border nature of such crimes meant that assigning
national blame was not useful, Kessler said.
"It's not a European Championship in the ranking," he said,
adding that organised criminals increasingly shop around for
countries with lax corruption regulations or low transparency
for their transactions.
Scrutinising EU institutions themselves, Kessler said OLAF
had come into conflict with some members of the European
Parliament (MEPs) when, during an investigation into accepting
payments for adding amendments to legislation, OLAF was barred
from entering their offices.
The agency eventually succeeded in gaining access, but after
a considerable delay. Two of the politicians targeted by the
probe later resigned, and OLAF recommended judicial action
against a third.
Kessler said that although it had since been clarified that
OLAF does have the power to enter the offices of MEPs, some
politicians still want to limit its powers.
Ingeborg Graessle, a German Christian Democrat who is
leading a parliamentary review of OLAF said access to MEPs'
offices violates their parliamentary immunity.
"We asked to make clear that there is no access to members'
offices to OLAF. OLAF is disputing our immunity," Graessle Told
Normal citizens are protected from unwarranted searches and
EU officials are protected by staff regulations, but members of
the European Parliament are left unprotected, Graessle said.
"This makes us the least protected group within the whole
($1 = 0.7947 euros)
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)