EU prosecutors take over investigation into Von der Leyen regarding Pfizer vaccine deal – Politico

Investigators are reportedly looking into private text messages exchanged between the European Commission president and the CEO of Pfizer.

The EU’s top prosecutors have taken control of a corruption investigation targeting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Politico reported on Monday citing an unnamed spokesperson for the Liege Prosecutor’s Office in Belgium. The probe relates to the nearly 2 billion doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine purchased for the EU at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The prosecution claims the EC chief negotiated the multi-billion-euro deal with the pharmaceutical giant’s CEO, Alber Bourla, privately via text messages before clinical trials for the vaccine were completed. Von der Leyen has refused to disclose the content of those messages, claiming she cannot find them. Investigators from the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO), who have been working on the case for the past few months, reportedly believe that Von der Leyen may be guilty of “interference in public functions, destruction of SMS, corruption and conflict of interest,” according to legal documents seen by Politico. Despite the allegations and von der Leyen herself admitting that she privately communicated with Bourla for nearly a month before signing the nearly €20 billion ($21.5 billion) deal, no formal charges have yet been brought against the EC chief. The case has been supported by the governments of Poland and Hungary, which have also filed official complaints about Von Der Leyen’s role in the vaccine negotiations, Politico’s sources said. The outlet noted, however, that Warsaw moved to withdraw the complaint after Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s pro-EU government came to power last year.

The New York Times, which first reported in 2021 that private conversations between Von Der Leyen and Bourla had indeed taken place prior to the signing of the vaccine deal, has also filed a lawsuit against the EC for refusing to disclose the content of the text messages and turning down a request for access to documents. The case against the EC chief has garnered “extremely high public interest,” according to EU officials, amid concerns that the bloc purchased significantly more Covid shots than were necessary. In December last year, Politico reported that EU states had dumped at least 215 million doses, which had cost taxpayers as much as €4 billion ($4.3 billion). Despite this, the vaccines will continue flowing to the EU under the contract with Pfizer, at least until 2027.