EC president’s former staff face criminal inquiry
Bruno Waterfield, Brussels
December 13 2017, 12:01am, The Times
The president of the European Commission is embroiled in a new criminal investigation into claims that “tampered” evidence misled an inquiry into phone-tapping.
Jean-Claude Juncker faces accusations that his officials presented inaccurate information under oath in a case involving an alleged illegal wiretap more than ten years ago when he was prime minister of Luxembourg.
The Times has learnt that last week, as Mr Juncker met Theresa May for Brexit talks in Brussels, a Luxembourg judge opened a criminal inquiry into whether officials working for Mr Juncker were responsible for an incomplete transcript of a covertly recorded conversation, which may have disguised his alleged role in phone-tapping.
The inquiry means that Mr Juncker, 63, risks being caught up in a scandal that threatens his reputation at a critical time for the EU. Marco Mille, former director of the Luxembourg intelligence service, who is on trial for illegal phone-tapping, said: “The falsification of evidence and the deliberate deception of parliament, the judiciary and, ultimately, the public are an unbearable attack on the rule of law.”
Last Monday Eric Schammo, an investigating judge, began an inquiry into whether officials working for Mr Juncker falsified key evidence for a parliamentary and then judicial investigation in 2012 and 2013. At the time Mr Juncker was fighting for his political future over a wider scandal including the activities of his country’s spies. He had vociferously denied involvement in their activities, especially wiretapping.
At the centre of the allegations is the transcript of a conversation, taped on a recorder disguised as a wristwatch, between Mr Mille and Mr Juncker in January 2007. It is a central piece of evidence in the criminal case brought against three former intelligence officials, including Mr Mille, over telephone eavesdropping on Loris Mariotto, who was making bizarre claims linking the family of Luxembourg’s Grand Duke to terrorist attacks in the 1980s.
The version of the transcript used in the parliamentary investigation, resulting in criminal charges against the three men, omits words that might indicate that Mr Juncker had authorised the wiretap on Mr Mariotto.
In one version, presented to a parliamentary scrutiny meeting in 2012, elements of the conversation were omitted. In another version, now accepted as complete, Mr Juncker replied on two occasions with “yes” or the affirmative “mhm” — interpreted by investigators as meaning that he understood and agreed with what Mr Mille was saying — when the former spy chief reported to him on a lack of progress after two days of phone- tapping and his potential problem explaining the interceptions to judges.
At one point, in words that were omitted from evidence to the 2012 and 2013 investigations, Mr Juncker says “we were listening”, indicating that he knew about the phone-tapping. As prime minister, Mr Juncker could have given permission for the phone taps but denied doing so. The changes to the transcript used as evidence in the investigation leading to criminal charges against the three men were discovered when thousands of files of prosecution documents were given to the defence last month.
Mr Mille, former director of the Service de Renseignement de l’État Luxembourgeois (SREL) , and now head of security at the German electrical giant Siemens, described the omissions as a “scandalous manipulation”. His complaint of “falsification” by persons unknown in the government led to a criminal investigation being opened on December 4. “It is not known to us who arranged for the ‘falsification’. It is not insignificant answering this question to ask who benefited from it,” he said.
His trial was suspended on November 21 after Mr Juncker told the Luxembourg court he would be unable to face cross-examination as a witness. The trial was postponed on same day that Mr Mille lodged a criminal complaint over omissions in the transcript.
Mr Juncker, under oath as a witness in the now postponed trial, told Ernest Nilles, the investigating magistrate, in May 2015 that “there was definitely no permission for a full phone-tapping operation”. The judge confronted Mr Juncker with the unaltered transcript, which no one had noticed was different from the one used in the 2012-13 inquiry, and said: “The conversation is clearly about a phone-tapping operation over a period of two days.” Mr Juncker denied it and said he had “the impression of a great deal of confusion” from the words used.
According to the judicial witness examination report, Mr Juncker said he could not recall phone conversations with his intelligence chief during which Mr Mille says he authorised an “urgent procedure” wiretap. The European Commission would not discuss “alleged comments or alleged documents”.
Frank Schneider, the former head of SREL operations and a defendant in the trial, expressed anger over Mr Juncker’s absence from a hearing scheduled for Tuesday last week, leading to the suspension of proceedings. “One would think that Juncker would take this seriously. It is, after all, something that caused him to resign his government in 2013 requiring early elections,” he said. “I am certain that if Juncker can come to Luxembourg to speak to students . . . about the future of Europe as he did in October this year, he could have found two hours during one of the eight proposed dates . . . to attend court.”
A commission spokesman said: “He is very willing to testify as a witness but it happens that he is also president of the EC, so we have to find a date that matches his institutional obligations.”