The European Public Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation into the EU’s coronavirus vaccine purchases, an announcement that will refocus attention on European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s role in the matter, – POLITICO reports.
The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), and independent EU body, is responsible for investigating and prosecuting financial crimes, including fraud, money laundering and corruption, according to the report.
In its announcement the body did not specify who was being investigated, or which contracts were the subject of inquiry. But that said, two other watchdog agencies have brought attention to the von der Leyen – Pfizer deal.
“This exceptional confirmation comes after the extremely high public interest. No further details will be made public at this stage,” – said the EPPO.
In April 2021, the “New York Times” first reported on text messages exchanged between von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla in the run-up to the EU’s biggest vaccine procurement contract — for up to 1.8 billion doses of BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. The deal would be worth up to €35 billion if fully exercised, according to leaked vaccine prices.
In January this year, the EU’s ombudsman charged the Commission with maladministration for failing to look for the text messages in response to a freedom of information request. Without confirming the existence of the texts, the Commission argued in its response that “short-lived, ephemeral documents are not kept.” It said that a search for the text messages hadn’t yielded any results.
Last month, the European Court of Auditors published the aforementioned report in which it said the Commission refused transparency regarding details of von der Leyen’s personal role in the Pfizer contract.
In it, the budget watchdog found that the EU chief went rogue in order to personally hammer out a preliminary deal with Pfizer, instead of relying on joint negotiating teams.
Belgian Socialist member of European Parliament (MEP) Kathleen van Brempt said that “several aspects” of the Pfizer contract need to be looked into, including “the text messages between the Commission President and the fact that there is no paper trail of the preliminary negotiations in first instance.”
According to POLITICO, “the European Parliament’s special committee on COVID-19,” adding that both the EU’s ombudsman and a member of the European Court of Auditors have made appearances before the panel.
“The [COVID-19] committee will be following this case with great attention,” – said Van Brempt.