The European Commission is conducting an internal investigation into whether Henrik Hololei, its Director General of the EU's Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, was in violation of EU rules when he greenlit his own flights to Qatar, flights which were paid for by that country or organizations linked to it, news portal Politico reports.
Hololei, an Estonian, was ultimately responsible for adjudging whether there was any conflict of interest in accepting the free flights, and also accommodation, which took place over a period of several years and in particular around the time of the Open Skies talks.
A commission spokesperson told Politico Monday that: "We have referred the matter to our competent authorities in the European Commission, and they are looking into the missions that were performed with contribution from third parties," adding that the internal probe aims to assess whether Hololei's actions constitute a conflict of interest, or not.
The European Commission would not speculate further on what might happen if a conflict of interest is adjudged to have arisen, with the spokesperson saying that sanctions will depend on what is discovered, and will be consistent with EU staff regulations.
Those regulations can lead to an official warning or disciplinary proceedings if breached, and even a removal from the post and reducing of pension in the most serious cases, Politico says.
Politico has led the charge in the saga, and obtained details of Hololei's free flights, made 2015-2021, under freedom of information requests.
The commission had said last week that it was standard practice for officials of Hololei's rank to adjudge for themselves whether conflict of interests arise or not – even in the case of their own activities – but following the Politico pieces has rowed back somewhat on this, allowing only the authorization of truips paid for by authorities in EU member states, for instance, or by academic institutions, or supra-national orgs like the UN.
For other trips, these officials would have to consult with their superiors, be it an EU commissioner or a chef de cabinet, first, Politico says.
The original Politico piece is here.
Hololei himself has not issued public comment since the story first broke.
Editor: Andrew Whyte