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Procurement of COVID vaccines: an open investigation

Procurement of COVID vaccines: an open investigation

The European Prosecutor’s Office announced, on Friday, that it had opened an investigation into the purchase of anti-COVID vaccines in the European Union, without further details.

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«Le bureau du procureur général européen (ou EPPO en anglais, European Public Prosecutor’s Office) confirme avoir une enquête en cours sur l’acquisition des vaccins anti-COVID dans l’UE», at-il indiqué dans un communiqué diffusé sur .

“This extraordinary confirmation comes due to the strong public interest (regarding this matter). No further details will be announced at this stage,” adds EPPO.

Facing the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic that reached Europe in early 2020, the European Commission decided to move forward with joint procurement of vaccines on behalf of its 27 member states.

More than the majority of doses for the German-American duo Pfizer/BioNTech were bought or reserved, but five other manufacturers got their vaccines by the European regulator (Moderna, AstraZeneca, Janssen, Novavax and Valneva).

NGOs and MEPs have criticized the fact that key aspects of the contracts remain confidential.

The exchange of text messages between European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Burla, revealed by the New York Times, sparked controversy and even prompted the European Union’s ombudsman to intervene.

Faced with the commission’s refusal of the services of a journalist who asked to know the content, the ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, considered this summer that the public should be able to access text messages exchanged by EU institutions. The same conditions as for other European business documents.

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In response to a question by AFP, a commission spokesperson said Ms von der Leyen had exchanged text messages with the CEO of Pfizer “just as she had exchanged with CEOs of other companies” in order to persuade them to provide the EU “in accordance with procedures.”

The spokesman added that the head of the European executive “did not negotiate contracts” with pharmaceutical companies.

He explained that these negotiations were supervised by the European Union by a steering committee that includes “representatives of the Commission and all Member States”. The latter, he said, “had the possibility to withdraw from the contract.”

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office, officially established in 2021, is an independent body of the European Union responsible for combating fraud against EU funds and any other crime affecting its financial interests (corruption, money laundering, cross-border fraud and value-added tax).

This supranational body is responsible for investigating, but also prosecuting and bringing to justice the perpetrators of these crimes, an unprecedented power that the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) did not have.