The European Commission was left red-faced as it was revealed that its chief transport official had fudged records regarding trips to Qatar. Henrik Hololei was the only person to sign off on his own conflict of interest declarations in a controversy surrounding his acceptance of junkets to Qatar.
Director General for Transport at the Commission Henrik Hololei is in hot water over revelations last week that he accepted multiple junkets to Qatar while negotiating a controversial aviation deal with the Qatari government. Soon after the revelation, Hololei defended himself against the accusations by stating that the trips were in line with regulations.
A European Commission spokesperson belatedly confirmed to Politico that Hololei had approved the flights for himself while he negotiated an aviation deal with the Qatari government. That means there was no ethical oversight, other than Hololei’s personal opinion. The European Ombudsman, a watchdog body for European Institutions, stirred the pot when it asked for clarification as to how Commission officials declare third-party expenses.
This update by the Commission is contrary to a previous statement that ethical concerns had been “carefully considered” by officials at the time Hololei accepted the free flights. In reality, this consideration was just approving the travel himself.
There has been intense scrutiny recently over ties between EU officials and Qatar since the cash-for-influence scandal, commonly known as Qatargate, broke in December, with multiple MEPs arrested on corruption charges.
On Monday, March 6th the European Ombudsman formally wrote to the Commission inquiring how it planned to update its disclosure policies in light of the revelations.
The Commission, for its part, announced an update to current practices, asking staff to restrict travel to only major global events following the revelations.