EU official convicted of rape stayed on the payroll during seven years of proceedings
On 1 November 2022, the European Commission terminated the employment of EU official Margus Rahuoja after he was convicted of raping a colleague. Rahuoja had been suspended since the Commission discovered the allegations in 2015. However, the former director of the Commission's Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport continued to receive his salary during seven years of legal proceedings. After appealing two earlier sentences, the EU official was sentenced to four years suspended by the Court of Appeal of Mons in September this year.
“On 28 October, the Appointing Authority adopted the sanction decision in the case of Mr MR. The sanction imposed on him takes fully into account the seriousness of the established facts. As a result of this decision, on 1 November 2022 his employment status with the Commission was terminated,” a spokesperson of the Commission told Belga.
"The Commission will spare no effort to ensure that no such cases happen again”
The incident that led to the Estonian EU official’s dismissal dates back to 2015. Rahuoja raped a colleague 20 years his junior during an office party at Commission premises. “The Commission suspended the staff member from their duties as soon as it discovered the allegations,” says a Commission spokesperson. For all but the first six months, the EU official continued to receive his full salary during his suspension.
Belgian newspaper La Libre first reported on Rahuoja maintaining his salary in 2021. Under the European Commission's staff regulations, a suspended staff member is entitled to full remuneration if no final sanction decision is reached within six months. If that staff member is being prosecuted for the same facts, however, staff regulations also stipulate that the Commission cannot take such a decision until the court has delivered a final ruling. The Commission can withhold the salary of an employee who is in custody during criminal proceedings, but that was not the case for Rahuoja.
The Belgian courts only reached a final verdict in the rape case after seven years of legal proceedings. The EU official appealed an initial sentence of four years of effective imprisonment handed down in 2019 by the Court of First Instance of Brussels. The Brussels Court of Appeal increased his sentence to six years of effective imprisonment in 2021, but the Belgian Court of Cassation overturned this judgment in January 2022. The case was subsequently sent to the Court of Appeal in Mons.
Four years suspended
On 12 September 2022, the Mons Court of Appeal sentenced Rahuoja to four years suspended, meaning he will not serve prison time if he does not commit any new offences within a three-year period. Among the reasons for suspending Rahuoja’s prison sentence, the Mons court lists "the length of time since the acts took place” and “the professional consequences imposed by disciplinary instances.”
Following the expiration of the deadline for appeal against the Mons court ruling, the Commission resumed its disciplinary procedure against the Estonian employee. A sanction decision was taken on 28 October, resulting in the termination of Rahuoja’s employment as of 1 November 2022.
Three other cases
Due to data protection rules, the Commission could not disclose salary information on this particular case. According to publicly available wage scales within the European Commission, someone of Rahuoja’s rank would receive a minimum basic monthly salary of €15 590,76.
“The European Commission has zero tolerance to any form of misconduct,” a Commission spokesperson adds. “We expect our staff to adhere to the highest ethical standards at all times. The Commission already has a thorough policy in place to prevent and address all forms of harassment. And this will be reinforced further as of early next year. The Commission will spare no effort to ensure that no such cases happen again.”
Rahuoja is not the only suspended Commission staff member who has continued to receive salary during criminal proceedings. Besides the Estonian, the same scenario has played out for three other employees. According to a Commission spokesperson, these three other cases lasted on average five years.
A woman passing by the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium © Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP