My name is Robert McCoy, and I’m an EU whistleblower
“It’s difficult to distil twenty years of misery into ten minutes,” the man says, drawing a laborious sigh as he commences a short presentation in front of MEPs earlier this week. “My name is Robert McCoy, and I’m a whistleblower.”
In March 2000, McCoy unearthed evidence of widespread fraud and embezzlement at one of the EU’s Brussels-based institutions – the Committee of the Regions (CoR), which brings together local representatives from across the bloc.
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McCoy, who at the time was employed as an internal auditor, found that at the heart of the wrongdoing was an endemic expenses scandal. Members had been filing forged claims and falsifying public procurement offers to the tune of potentially hundreds of thousands of euros.
The Committee ignored McCoy’s findings and he subsequently approached the European Parliament, pleading with them to consider his discoveries when rubber-stamping the Committee’s accounts.
Parliament’s role in the dispute extended to mediating the fallout between the Committee of the Regions and McCoy, and stretches on to this very day, where this week the Budgetary Control Committee has given an update on its attempts to broker a settlement between McCoy and the CoR.
But McCoy’s solicitation of assistance from the European parliament wasn’t purely of an administrative nature. He also wanted democratic oversight for an ever-resentful campaign of intimidation and abuse he had been facing within the walls of the committee, including threats against his family and anonymous calls to his residence in the middle of the night.
After McCoy had gone public with the findings twenty years ago, the campaign against him also included such clandestine tactics as office raids. The auditor would regularly arrive at his workplace to find that confidential papers and documented evidence of fraud had been removed.
“I was scared. My cry for help provoked a vindictive campaign of taxpayer-funded abusive behaviour and institutional persecution,” McCoy, who is originally from the UK, says, noting that such slander specifically included accusations from the committee that he was a delirious and hallucinatory narcissist, suffering from paranoid psychosis.
Essentially, McCoy’s findings couldn’t be trusted, the committee was trying to say.
However, the legitimacy of McCoy’s conclusions was backed by a report from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) that found there had been ‘irregularities’ in the budgetary management of the committee.
The European Court of Justice also validated McCoy’s theories on three separate occasions and the European Parliament also adopted several resolutions demanding that the committee issue him a formal apology for the alleged mistreatment.
To this day, such an apology has never surfaced, and the committee refuses to acknowledge Robert as a bona fine whistleblower.
Moreover, the independent oversight from OLAF, the European Court of Justice, and the Parliament had all come along too late.
McCoy was ostracized at work, and, facing a poisonous campaign from his colleagues at the committee, he had been forced to take extended sick leave, which eventually segued into his professional retirement.
Nevertheless, out of the blue, in December last year, the committee approached McCoy with a settlement offer: €260,000 to make the whole issue go away. McCoy refused.
“All of a sudden, I got an offer,” McCoy told me over the phone earlier this week. “There was nothing negotiated. There was nothing put in writing until after it had been adopted by the Bureau of the Committee of the Regions on December 3.”
“It has never been about money,” McCoy added. “I only ever wanted to get back to work.”
For their part, the Committee of the Regions told me this week that as part of the December 2019 offer, they were prepared to recognize McCoy as a whistleblower ‘in the general sense.’
“We are determined to close the book on the long-running case involving Mr. McCoy swiftly, amicably, and as fairly as possible,” the CoR informed me.
In a letter I later obtained, Anders Knape, Chair of the Commission of Financial and Administrative Affairs at the Committee of the Regions, wrote to Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee, noting that President of the CoR, Apostolos Tzitzikostas, is willing to sit down with McCoy bilaterally to hash out an amicable settlement – an option to which McCoy is open.
Against all odds, McCoy is still a staunch supporter of the EU and deplores his country’s impending exit from the Union.
Indeed, when news of the fraud had first surfaced in the early noughties, McCoy was paraded as a martyr in the anti-EU press, culminating in a 2004 job offer from a one Nigel Farage.
“Nigel Farage called me in 2004 and offered me the job of Chief Executive Officer at UKIP,” McCoy says. “I refused outright. I didn’t want to go over to the enemy.”
“The call of the mermaids didn’t work. I’m rabidly pro-EU and anti-Brexit.”
For McCoy, reform is the only possible solution that may appease his battle-scarred commitment to the cause of holding the CoR to account.
“People will start believing us when we start prosecuting former CEOs or Presidents for their wrongdoing. We cannot cower in the face of this flagrant abuse of authority,” McCoy told me.
Twenty years have passed since the inception of Robert McCoy’s ordeal in the institutions. There have been resolutions passed by Parliament, decisions made by the highest court on the bloc, and investigations concluded by anti-fraud authorities.
And while the culture of transparency and professional integrity has organically developed in that time, questions remain over whether the EU’s institutions have caught up with this new horizon of workplace ethics.
“Over the years, not a single member of the Bureau, not a single president or a single Secretary-General has confronted the issue of whether there could have been maladministration going on,” McCoy told MEPs on Tuesday, an undercurrent of fatigued desperation tracing through his voice.
“Whatever the outcome, nobody’s going to give me back the last 20 years…EU institutions cannot be allowed to defy parliament, they cannot be allowed to flout the rules and ignore the basic principles of good administration and good governance.”
“Now is the time for Parliament to show its worth and practice what it preaches.”
BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES is a weekly newsletter which brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, The Brussels Times’ Samuel Stolton helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels.If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the newsletter here.