Will the EU Prosecutor’s investigation into the COVID vaccine result in von der Leyen? – Politico

It’s the scandal that won’t go away – and it produces more intrigue than the answers.

The EU Prosecutor’s Office on Friday He said It was investigating the European Union’s purchase of coronavirus vaccines during the height of the pandemic. However, the grueling announcement provided almost no details – nothing about who he was investigating, what potential crimes he was looking for, or why he took such a step now.

Enter the speculative machine in Brussels. Her most important conversations: the texts of Ursula von der Leyen.

For months, pressure has been building on the European Commission chief since she admitted to exchanging texts with Pfizer CEO Albert Burla while the European Union was negotiating a vaccine contract with the company. Two EU watchdog agencies have already reprimanded her on the matter, venting about the Commission’s refusal to issue the texts.

But is the European Prosecutor’s Office looking into this matter? At the moment, there is no way to know.

Meanwhile, Politico details what this might mean for von der Leyen and the EU, and looks at what (or who) may be in the crosshairs of EU prosecutors.

How did it all start?

In April 2021, von der Leyen told the New York Times that she had exchanged texts with the CEO of Pfizer for a month in the run-up to the European Union signing his contract with the US pharmaceutical giant.

In the deal, the Commission committed to buying 900 million Pfizer-BioNTech rounds on behalf of EU members, with an option to buy another 900 million.

Why does this bother people?

These statements sparked talk of whether von der Leyen acted independently during contract negotiations and bypassed normal channels.

The journalists requested access to the transcripts, only to be told there was no record of such messages.

But the EU’s ombudsman later revealed that the Commission had not explicitly asked von der Leyen’s team to search for the texts, as it did not consider them to be “documents” worthy of preservation. In a report on his findings, the Ombudsman Branded “Mismanagement” approach.

The committee responded that it could not provide the transcripts because “short-lived and transient documents are not preserved”.

A Pfizer official told the European Parliament that the company did not negotiate the vaccine contract via text message, but it is not clear what politically sensitive decisions were made in crucial initial negotiations over a text with no public record | Jonas Rosens/Belga/AFP via Getty Images

Another EU watchdog, the European Court of Auditors, subsequently ramped up its own investigation. The agency found that von der Leyen had entered early talks with Pfizer and removed the usual negotiating teams to personally reach an initial agreement.

“We have requested the Commission to provide us with information on the initial negotiations of this agreement,” the Court of Auditors wrote in a report. “However, nothing was imminent.”

A Pfizer official last week told the European Parliament that the company had not negotiated the vaccine contract via text message. But while the legal aspect of the contract itself may be decided by teams of lawyers, it is not clear what politically sensitive decisions were made in those crucial initial negotiations, of which there is no public record.

So what can we say if the EU Prosecutor is looking into this?

Not much unfortunately.

The timing is interesting, but the EU’s attorney general could well investigate any of the many vaccine contracts signed by the EU, as well as other officials inside or outside the Commission.

One factor to consider: The jurisdiction of the EU Prosecutor is to investigate the misuse of EU funds. Most vaccines were ultimately paid for by members of the European Union – not the European Union itself. However, €2.5 billion of EU money was used to fund some of the initial costs of producing the vaccine.

How bad can it be for von der Leyen?

Given that the EU Prosecutor is specifically investigating criminal cases, it cannot be overstated how bad it would be for von der Leyen if she was arrested in the investigation. But again, there is no evidence yet.

On Monday, a spokesperson for the commission said it “has not received any information on this matter yet”.

However, the case is potentially toxic for von der Leyen given her involvement in a similar scandal when she was Germany’s defense minister.

During an investigation into Germany’s awarding of lucrative defense contracts during her tenure as minister, it was found that data had been erased from von der Leyen’s phones, preventing it from being used in the investigation.

The Public Prosecutor of the European Union specifically investigates criminal matters. If von der Leyen is scanned in the probe, it will not be of any use to her | Johanna Geron/Paul/AFP/Via Getty Images

Although investigators acquitted von der Leyen in the matter, she told a German parliamentary inquiry that “lessons have been learned”.

Von der Leyen is also no stranger to the pharmaceutical world. Her husband, Heiko, is a director at the US biotechnology company Orgenesis, and is a physician by training.

Who else could it be?

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama made waves earlier this month when he admitted that Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio had violated vaccine contract rules to give Albania the injection on humanitarian grounds early in the pandemic.

But this appears to be outside the jurisdiction of the EU Prosecutor as the vaccines were purchased with Italian money, and this donation does not appear to meet the “extremely high public interest” standard mentioned by the European Environmental Protection Office.

What’s Next?

There may have been a lot of silence on the part of the EU Prosecutor and a lot of rumors in Brussels – until investigators provide more clarity (or journalists find out more).

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