An EU official tasked with monitoring the bloc’s expenditure fraudulently claimed vast sums of taxpayer money to spend on lavish hunting trips with continental royals, it was revealed on Thursday.
Karel Pinxten, a former member of the EU court of auditors, said European taxpayers should foot the bill for hunting parties in France and Belgium because “leading European personalities” were present, according to court documents.
Mr Pinxten also claimed to be on official business when really on private trips to Cuba and Switzerland, or attending friends’ marriages, the European Court of Justice found.
The expense claims totaled more than €472,000 (£400,000), plus almost €100,000 in unearned salary because many of his work absences were not justified, investigators said.
The official, who dabbled in property, also tried to rent an apartment to the EU’s top diplomat, whose expenses he was supposed to monitor personally.
The scam came to the attention of the EU anti-fraud investigators after receipts showed he had bought petrol despite the fact that his court-appointed car ran on diesel.
Mr Pinxten tried to explain this away as expenditure on “replacement cars”, though judges ruled he had provided no evidence of this.
Gold-plated pension docked
The judges in Luxembourg docked Mr Pinxten, a former minister in the Belgian government, two-thirds of his gold-plated pension.
The EU’s pension scheme is among the most extravagant in the world for the public sector and entitles retirees to a large percentage of their final salary, which in Mr Pinxten’s case was around €17,000 a month.
The judges, who have no power to press criminal charges, said they had been lenient because no one had complained about his work while an auditor.
Mr Pinxten served at the court of auditors between 2006 and 2018, when the UK was still in the EU.
Investigators have sent details of the case to judicial authorities in Luxembourg with a view to possible criminal charges.
The 11 hunting parties, judges wrote in their ruling, were a particularly egregious violation as they had “no relation to the exercise of the functions as member of the court of auditors”.
The outings, which took place at Ciergnon in the Belgian Ardennes – with members of the Belgian Royal Family – and Chambord in France, were found to have involved no professional activities at all.
Rather than work, evidence seized by investigators showed the hunts involved meals, “stalking”, and a French ritual called rendre les honneurs au gibier during which hunters stand over their kill and tell the tale of the hunt before placing the last morsel of flesh in the mouth of the carcass.
Trips ‘almost exclusively’ tourism
Mr Pinxten was found to have used the credit card provided alongside his chauffeur-driven car to buy fuel for “third parties”.
In Cuba, he claimed that he wanted to meet important local figures and that meetings would be organised after he had arrived. It was difficult to organise them beforehand because the EU delegation to Cuba refused to cooperate, it was claimed.
Judges dismissed this, countering that Pinxten’s schedule involved “almost exclusively” tourism.
One expense claim related to the purchase of a vineyard. Mr Pinxten tried to rent an apartment he was managing to Federica Mogherini, who was at that time EU high representative for foreign affairs, the bloc’s top diplomat.
Given that he was the senior member in a team that audited Ms Mogherini’s expenses, judges said this exposed him to a conflict of interest. Mr Pinxten claimed that the offer was made in his capacity as a private individual, and that he had only used the court of auditors email address because he had no other.
His actions had damaged the reputation of the court of auditors, judges said.