The Ursula von der Leyen Affair
After a criminal complaint in Belgium against the President of the European Commission, the so-called SMS-case, now takes a new turn. The judge responsible for the investigation will likely gain access to the secret messages exchanged between Ursula von der Leyen and Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, at least if they haven't been deleted.
Published: June 2, 2023, 10:23 am
The agreements on vaccines negotiated via SMS between EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla have caused much ink to flow, not least because many legally knowledgeable claim that the EU Commission, which is not elected, does not have the mandate to negotiate in these matters.
Due to this suspicion of negotiations “outside the framework” of the mega-contract for vaccine procurement signed, it would constitute a crime not to present these SMS messages, which are legally considered administrative documents and thus should be recorded. If they have been deleted, President Ursula von der Leyen, as the responsible head of a public authority, must answer in court. The case could reveal the existence of “a corruption pact,” according to French lawyer Diane Protat, but has received very little attention in mainstream media.
Several alternative media have written about the administrative contortions in the case when EU parliament members twice unsuccessfully invited Pfizer’s CEO to come and explain himself before the European Parliament. He accepted the first invitation, but canceled at the last minute and sent a subordinate, Janine Small, instead. When asked directly, she admitted that they had not tested whether the vaccine was effective against transmission but stubbornly refused to disclose any financial terms in the agreement.
Conflicts of interest? Corruption?
Since October 2022, an investigation has been ongoing within the European authorities. Then in December, the BonSens association initiated a procedure at the New York State Court to have the infamous text messages handed over, as they have serious suspicions against the President of the European Commission regarding conflicts of interest or even corruption.
The fact is that no official document precisely describes the official terms from the negotiations of the gigantic third contract for the purchase of Pfizer vaccines, covering 1.8 billion doses, for an amount of more than 70 billion euros.
Something else not reported to any significant extent by mainstream media is that the New York Times sued the European Commission, on the same grounds, to gain access to the text messages on January 25, 2023.
On April 5, 2023, lobbyist Frédéric Baldan filed a new complaint, this time as a criminal case in Belgium, to investigating judge Frenay in Liège. His complaint directly refers to the issue of the third contract for vaccine procurement and the fact that the negotiations were apparently conducted outside the usual framework to negotiate this type of contract, bypassing the steering committee responsible for evaluating the bids. Ursula von der Leyen, however, has no mandate giving her the right to intervene in this type of contract negotiation.
Belgian law has a peculiarity. A public authority operator who arbitrarily violates a constitutional law risks imprisonment (article 151 of the penal code). In this case, it is about the right to allow every citizen access to administrative documents, according to the principle of publicity.
The complaint is thus from a private individual and concerns civil liability for improper exercise of authority, exceeding powers, destruction of public records, illegal bias, and corruption. The complaint, therefore, aims to cover all eventualities.
This case is a real earthquake on the European political scene, which has already been hit by suspicions of corruption against the EU’s Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakidou and the QatarGate scandal.
Even though the EU Commission did not want to let citizens, or even EU parliamentarians, shed light on the (expensive) economic conditions for the purchases of vaccines, a legal solution could be found at the state level and its jurisdiction, in this case, Belgium.
Moreover, a dozen European states, including Poland and Bulgaria, are now questioning the purchase price of vaccine doses and are concerned about the obligation to recommend products that, besides widespread doubt about their real effectiveness, are no longer useful since the Covid-19 epidemic phenomenon is over.
In France, 46 million doses remain in the health administration’s warehouse and will go to waste. There are more than 30 million doses in Italy and more than 10 million in Belgium. A real waste. How to support – or how it was possible to support – the idea that even more doses need to be purchased under threat of being sued for non-compliance with a commercial contract … that nobody gets to see?
This situation has handed all the cards to the pharmaceutical industry, primarily to Pfizer, which has grabbed more than three-quarters of the sales contracts. This prompts European Parliament Member Michèle Rivasi, from Europe Ecology-The Greens (EELV), to say:
“It seems as if it is the pharmaceutical companies that have been holding the pen at the EU Commission.”
She has discussed the case in several French media, such as the left-wing newspaper l’Humanité, which has presented the subject on its YouTube channel. The newspaper Valeurs Actuelles brought up the subject in a column by Patricia de Sagazan. The EU news website EURACTIV covered the subject. Sud-Radio also addressed this news thanks to André Bercoff, who left the word to Diane Protat and Frédéric Baldan.
A Catastrophic Silence for Democracy
The subject could quickly go from soap opera to a major legal and political scandal. The President of the EU Commission, who already has a turbulent past with the German justice system from when she was the country’s defense minister, has shown many signs of close friendship with Albert Bourla, not least through her husband, who works in the pharmaceutical field.
The exchanged text messages must be shown to the public to not further discredit the EU institutions, short-circuited by von der Leyen’s wish to handle this matter herself. EU institutions suffer from an apparent worrying structural weakness, namely, being overly exposed to the power behind industrial and financial lobbying groups.
Since the beginning of the “health crisis” in 2020, mainstream media has shown a clear inactivity on these issues. The ethical rules for journalists established in the Munich Declaration of 1971 aim to guarantee citizens objective and factual information about the dangers threatening public affairs and the common interest. Today’s corps of journalists often seems to have forgotten these rules.
This silence is serious for democracy and stability in the political sphere in Europe. While citizens’ mistrust of the media continues to grow in Europe, this situation also damages the image of the EU, and its member states that do not react to the deficiencies in the supranational institutions that now largely govern the countries.
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