The head of the European Union’s asylum agency faces accusations of misconduct, after whistleblowers called for an investigation over alleged nepotism and mishandling of harassment claims.
Nina Gregori, the director of the Malta-based agency, was handed the job just three years ago and tasked with restoring its credibility.
Her predecessor, Jose Carreira, left the role abruptly in 2018 after being accused of harassment. He has always denied any wrongdoing.
The EU’s anti-fraud office confirmed the latest complaint into the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), and said it was exploring “potential investigative interest according to standard procedure”.
In the complaint, first reported by the Financial Times, unnamed whistleblowers complained Ms Gregori had failed to revive the agency’s credibility.
The EUAA is responsible for offering the bloc’s 27 member states legal, technical and operational assistance on asylum issues.
“Gregori has now set up a complex system of legal structures and controls that give an appearance of compliance and regularity but that, in reality, hide and cover all the agency’s irregularities,” it wrote.
Claims of misleading reports and unjustified salaries
It was alleged that the agency’s director had made it impossible to notify the “management board, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the public” of breaches of the rules.
The asylum agency, which employs about 2,000 people, was alleged to have hired staff linked to “corruption cases publicly reported across Maltese media”.
It was also said to have handed out unjustified salaries to some of those people hired, amounting to the “fraudulent use of EU budget channelled into irregular payments”.
Ms Gregori and the agency’s other managers sent, it was claimed, misleading reports to the European Commission and European Parliament on the state of European asylum procedures.
A probe could be opened if the EU’s fraud watchdog decides if there is “sufficient suspicion of serious misconduct”.
Mark Camilleri, head of corporate management at the EUAA, was accused of allegedly harassing five members of staff in the past three years.
The head of the body’s internal controls, Gerardo Knows Ramirez, was named by whistleblowers for being “instrumental in the dismantling” of crisis plans drawn up after former director, Mr Carreira, quit his role in 2018.
Both individuals denied all the accusations against them.
In a statement, the EUAA told the Financial Times that Ms Gregori refutes the claims made against her.
A spokesman for the agency said the director and her managers “strongly refute the anonymous allegations of gross irregularities and are saddened” by the attacks.
It argued against “the repeated use of factual inaccuracies and the distortion of facts intended to damage the good reputation that the agency and its staff have been steadily building over the past three years”.
Despite refusing the complaints, the EUAA vowed to work alongside Olaf, the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog, on any investigation.
The agency’s management have vowed to continue improving oversight of the EUAA and its function, the transition, they claimed, “remains ongoing”.
Ms Gregori was said to be prepared to “encourage a culture of transparency and accountability”.
Monika Hohlmeier, chairman of the European Parliament’s budgetary control committee, who was sent a copy of the complaint, said: “I am of the firm opinion that serious allegations of misconduct at any EU institution, body or agency should always be thoroughly checked and investigated.”
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