Former EP president Schulz under suspicion

Martin Schulz’s time as European Parliament president could become the subject of a probe by EU’s anti-fraud office it emerged on Thursday.

Media reports allege that Schulz, who is the main contender against German Chancellor Angela Merkel in upcoming elections in September, advocated questionable bonuses and promotions while serving as European Parliament president from 2012 until early 2017.

German magazine Spiegel had reported that, during his time as president of the EU parliament, Schulz had pushed for preferential terms for his confidant, Markus Engels, who is currently acting as his campaign manager.

In October 2015, Schulz allegedly also tried to help other co-workers secure lucrative advantages, it reported.

The European Anti Fraud Office (OLAF) says that it will determine whether the information is of potential investigative interest.

As a first step specialists at OLAF will assess whether “there is sufficient suspicion of fraud, corruption or any illegal activity affecting the EU’s financial interests for OLAF to open a case,” a spokeswoman told dpa.

The EU anti-fraud office stressed that the assessment did not mean that any individuals in question were guilty of any wrongdoing, and that the body fully respects the presumption of innocence.

The European Parliament says it does not believe Schulz broke the law, but OLAF investigators are not bound by that opinion.

Schulz has also been asked by the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control to reply by March 3 to a questionnaire about his time in office.

One of the questions Schulz will have to respond to is how many charter flights he used with aircraft solely chartered for him, and why scheduled flights could not be used instead.

Schulz, 61, announced late January that he was planning to run for office against Merkel, and has since enjoyed a sudden surge in popularity.

According to one German survey published on Sunday, Schulz’s centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) are ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) for the first time in a decade.