EU border agency’s boss resigns after fraud probe

EU border agency’s boss resigns after fraud probe

The head of the EU border agency Frontex has filed a resignation after he was accused of being involved in an anti-fraud investigation and excoriating its human rights record.

Fabrice Leggeri, who was censured by the European Parliament last year, announced his resignation in a letter to the agency's management board. I give my mandate back to the management board as it seems that the mandate of Frontex I have been elected and renewed in June 2019 has been silently changed, Leggeri wrote in a letter seen by the Guardian.

His resignation was yet to be accepted by the Frontex board, which was holding an emergency meeting to discuss his position on Friday.

The letter was dated the same day as an international consortium of journalists, including the Guardian, revealed Frontex's database showed it was involved in illegal pushbacks that forced asylum seekers trying to enter Greece back to Turkey.

The resignation follows a separate investigation by the EU's anti-fraud agency, Olaf. A spokesman for Olaf said the investigation into Frontex was closed on February 15 but declined to make any further comment, citing confidentiality rules to protect the people involved and possible follow-up in administrative and judicial proceedings. It is not clear whether the criticism from rights groups or the Olaf investigation played a role in his decision to quit.

Leggeri, a French national who held top positions in his country's interior and defence ministries, has led Frontex since 2015, a period when it was transformed from an obscure EU agency into a central plank of EU border control policy. After the 2015 migration crisis, EU leaders agreed to give more powers, staff and money to the Warsaw-based agency. By 2027, Frontex will have 10,000 border and coast guards and its budget has already increased more than 19 fold since its creation in 2006.

As Executive Director of Frontex, Leggeri has faced heavy criticism, including from a special committee in the European Parliament that accused the agency of failing to protect the human rights of asylum seekers.

The cross-party committee said Frontex had carried out only a superficial investigation into alleged illegal pushbacks at the EU's borders. Leggeri was criticised for his failure to appoint 40 human rights monitors as required under EU law, while lavishly staffing his own private office. In his private office, MEPs found that 63 people had been appointed by him, more than twice the number of people in the cabinet of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

Neither Frontex nor Leggeri have publicly commented on his position.

A spokesman for the European Commission said the Frontex board would communicate its conclusions after Friday's extraordinary meeting.

The commission said that Frontex has a crucial task, which is to help member states protect the common EU external borders and uphold the fundamental rights in doing so. In order to achieve this, Frontex must have a stable and well functioning agency in place. The German MEP Birgit Sippel, who speaks for the Socialist group on home affairs, said Leggeri's resignation was long overdue.

She said Leggeri has mismanaged the EU's border and coastguard agency for years, harming its reputation and misleading the parliament along the way. Since then, evidence of the need for fresh leadership has mounted, and we will look at the succession closely.