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An online reporting system is the latest weapon in OLAF’s (the European Anti-Fraud Office) arsenal for fighting financial crime against the EU. OLAF, the EU’s financial watchdog agency, has a mandate to protect the economic interests of the Union by combating fraud, corruption and official misconduct within the EU’s institutions.
Because this sort of crime is difficult to detect, OLAF has always depended on tips from citizens, businesses and EU employees. During the last few years, this information has been given via freephone numbers and email. However, there were several drawbacks to this system. First, despite the fact that whistleblowers have legal protection from reprisals, many EU civil servants have been reluctant to report their suspicions because they feared being exposed as informants, risking the rage of their colleagues and superiors. Additionally, under the prior system, OLAF investigators were not able to ask questions in order to test the credibility or get clarification of the tips. This made it difficult to know whether the information provided sufficient grounds for further investigation.
The new internet-based Fraud Notification System (FNS), launched on March 1, 2010, should solve these problems and increase the flow of information to the agency. It has a user-friendly, structured format to guide informants through the process of reporting their suspicions. By employing the latest technical safeguards, it guarantees absolute anonymity while allowing informants and investigators to enter into a dialogue. The FNS operates like a “blind letterbox” where the parties can post messages without anyone, either inside or outside of OLAF can discover the identity of anyone who has chosen to remain anonymous. This helps investigators assess the trustworthiness of the tips and clarify any ambiguous information.
During an initial phase, FNS will be available in only four languages—English, French, German and Dutch. Reports, however, can already be made in any EU language.