Key facts of the case:
This case involved matters relating to the European Anti-Fraud Office’s (OLAF) investigation of Mr Yves Franchet and Mr Daniel Byk, who are, respectively, the former Director-General and the former Director of Eurostat (Statistical Office of the European Communities). These two individuals sued for compensation with regard to the way in which that investigation was conducted. In particular it was alleged that their rights to good administration and right to be presumed innocent had been breached through the leaking of certain documents and information about the investigation.
Results (sanctions) and key consequences of the case:
The Court held that the Commission should pay Mr Yves Franchet and Mr Daniel Byk the sum of EUR 56 000 in relation to part of their claims.
Interpretation of article(s) and implications for the resolution of the case:
FRC - Article 41: The Court held that “OLAF is under no obligation to grant a Community official who is alleged to be concerned by an internal investigation – before his appointing authority adopts a final decision adversely affecting him – access to the documents forming the subject-matter of such an investigation or to those drawn up by OLAF itself on that occasion; otherwise, the effectiveness and confidentiality of the mission entrusted to OLAF and OLAF’s independence could be undermined. In particular, the mere fact that part of a confidential investigation file appears to have been unlawfully communicated to the press does not in itself justify any derogation, in favour of the official alleged to be referred to, from the confidentiality of that file and of the investigation conducted by OLAF.” ( para 255) It then held that “Article 4 of Decision 1999/396 does not require OLAF to give access to the documents forming the subject-matter of an internal investigation or to those drawn up by OLAF itself, in particular because an interpretation of that provision which required OLAF to do so would undermine its work” (para 256) “That approach is not inconsistent with respect for the right to good administration, provided for in Article 41 of the Charter, which states that that right includes the right of every person to have access to his or her file, while respecting the legitimate interests of confidentiality and of professional and business secrecy. Thus, access to the file may be refused, according to that principle, where respect for confidentiality so requires.” (para 257)
FRC - Article 48: The Court confirmed that “by virtue of its obligation to have due regard to the interests of officials and of the principle of sound administration, the administration must avoid giving the press information concerning disciplinary proceedings which might damage the official concerned and take all necessary measures to prevent any form of dissemination of information which might be defamatory of that official” (para 214) It continued to hold that “the principle of the presumption of innocence confers rights on individuals. It should be observed that the obligation to maintain confidentiality also confers rights on individuals who are affected by an OLAF investigation in so far as they are entitled to expect that the investigations concerning them will be conducted in a manner that respects their fundamental rights. In the same way, the applicants are entitled to rely in the present case on the principle of sound administration in that it entails the right to have their cases dealt with in such a way that confidentiality is maintained. (para 218) It must be held that these are sufficiently serious breaches of those rules of law, in so far as it is for OLAF to ensure that such leaks, which breach the fundamental rights of the persons concerned, such as the presumption of innocence, do not take place, as the administration has no margin of discretion with respect to compliance with that obligation.” (para 219)