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European Anti-Fraud Office
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How are investigations conducted?

1. Opening of an internal investigation 

The information provided by the third party, including anonymously, is initially assessed by a special unit in OLAF. Based on this initial assessment and provided there is a sufficient suspicion, the Director-General decides whether to open an investigation and assigns the case to investigators.

For internal investigations, consideration is given to the institution, body, office or agency best placed to conduct them. The decision is based, in particular, on the nature of the facts, the actual or potential financial impact of the case, and the likelihood of any judicial follow-up. The competence of the European Public Prosecutor Office (EPPO) is also assessed.

2. Conduct of the internal investigation and investigative powers 

The aim of the investigation is to prove or disprove the allegations. Investigators examine the facts objectively without allowing themselves to be influenced by the initial assessment. 

To this end, OLAF investigators:

  • have the right: (i) to immediate and unannounced access to any relevant information and, under certain conditions, to privately-owned devices used for work purposes, documents, accounts held by an EU institution, bodies, offices and agencies; (ii) to their premises; (iii) to make a copy of such documents/data; and (iv) to custody of such documents/data to ensure that there is no danger of their disappearance;
  • have access, under certain conditions, to information available in the centralised automated mechanisms on account holders (Article 32a(3) of Directive (EU) 2015/849 of the European Parliament and of the Council) and to records of transactions;
  • can carry out on-the-spot checks at the premises of economic operators to obtain access to information relevant to the investigation;
  • request oral information, including through interviews, and written information from officials, other servants, members of institutions or bodies, and heads of offices or agencies.

3.  Outcomes of the internal investigations 

On completion of an internal investigation, the investigative body draws up a report.  

The report includes in particular: 

  • an account of the legal basis for the investigation;
  • the procedural steps followed;
  • the facts established and their preliminary classification in law;
  • the estimated financial impact of the facts established;
  • the respect of the procedural guarantees; 
  • the conclusions of the investigation. 

When OLAF concludes an investigation, it often issues recommendations to the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies concerned or the competent national authorities of the Member States concerned. Types of recommendation include: 

  • recommendations of disciplinary measures such as opening disciplinary proceedings against an EU staff member or member of an EU body;
  • recommendations of financial measures to recover amounts that were unduly spent; 
  • recommendations of administrative measures, notably when structural weaknesses are identified, or when rules are unclear or non-existent;
  • judicial recommendations inviting a Member State’s judicial authorities to start criminal prosecution.

While OLAF has no powers to impose its recommendations, recipients are obliged to report to OLAF on the action taken. OLAF systematically monitors this feedback, as it helps to measure the success of its investigations and the work of its partners, and highlights areas for improvement.

4. OLAF internal investigation team

The internal investigation unit is composed of investigators with different professional backgrounds, such as legal experts, economists, auditors, accountants, former customs officers, former magistrates, former police officers and former public prosecutors. Investigators are chosen based on the expertise required for a specific investigation.