New accusations against embattled EU border chief

Anne-Laure MONDESERT
·2-min read
Fabrice Leggeri faces allegations of illegal border pushbacks and corruption at the Frontex agency

Pressure is growing on the head of the EU's border patrol agency after new accusations of abuses that were deemed "very worrying" by Brussels.

The damning reports against Fabrice Leggeri come at a time when the Frontex agency is taking on a greater frontline role in patrolling the EU's borders.

Migration is a hot-button issue across the EU and a rallying cry for far-right parties that are a rising force in some countries at the ballot box.

Leggeri is in charge of making sure his beefed-up agency can tighten control of Europe's vast frontiers and he has been given an ever-increasing budget to do so.

But the Frenchman has been the subject of succeeding rounds of accusations both for the methods used to stop migrants as well irregularities in Frontex spending.

The agency is under investigation by OLAF, the EU's independent corruption watchdog, over allegations of illegal pushbacks of migrants arriving in Greek waters from Turkey.

MEPs and activists have called for Leggeri to resign over the operations, but he has refused to do so, insisting his agency is key to the fight against human trafficking.

"Investigations are under way and it is normal that we have to report to the political authority. We are becoming a police force," Leggeri told France's Europe 1 radio.

More worryingly for Leggeri personally are accusations of spending irregularities and bad treatment of staff.

Documents revealed by ZDF, Le Monde and the Corporate Europe Observatory allegedly show that Frontex has been courted by dozens of defence and tech lobbyists in violation of EU transparency rules.

This follows other media reports that said that the raids on Frontex headquarters by OLAF investigators also turned up accusations of fraud and harassment of staff members.

According to these reports by French daily Liberation and Germany's Der Spiegel, the investigators are looking into, among other things, a contract with a Polish IT service provider, which is said to be tainted by irregularities.

The European commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson, said on Friday that the latest reports were "very concerning" for an agency that is "going to be, by far, the biggest EU Agency with a lot of power."

"We need a strong, solid and well-functioning Frontex agency," she told AFP.

With a mandate reinforced in 2019, Frontex is to have 10,000 agents by 2027 who will be directly employed by the agency, and no longer seconded to the force by the member states.

The Frontex management board -- composed of representatives from member states and the European Commission -- has set up a working group to investigate the case.

In an unprecedented move, the agency suspended its operations in Hungary at the end of January, following a European court ruling condemning the country's asylum policy.

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