EU fraud whistleblower is suspended

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A "WHISTLE-BLOWER" who revealed confidential details of European Union financial irregularities has been suspended, heightening anger among MEPs ahead of a motion to censure the European Commission.

The official, an internal financial auditor, was suspended on 18 December after passing hundreds of pages of information to the Greens in the European Parliament. The leak, which covered alleged mismanagement in nine areas of EU spending, followed months of tension and controversy over allegations of fraud and financial irregularities within the Commission.

Yesterday the European Commission confirmed the suspension, which can last a maximum of four months, during which time an investigation will be held.

Although the Commission refused to confirm his identity, the man was named by MEPs as Paul van Buitenen, and he later defended himself in media interviews.

The suspension provoked outrage among Euro- parliamentarians including Edward McMillan-Scott, leader of the 17 British Conservative MEPs, who called for the resignation of the European Commissioner in charge of personnel and administration, Erkki Liikanen. Mr McMillan- Scott said: "To make a scapegoat of someone doing their public duty shows the Commission is in a state of panic."

Before Christmas MEPs raised the possibility of a constitutional crisis by refusing to sign EU accounts dating from 1996. A censure motion is scheduled for next week, raising the possibility that all 20 EU Commissioners could be dismissed. But the two-thirds majority needed to achieve that is unlikely to be achieved. Many of the allegations centre on mismanagement of the humanitarian aid budget. But there are claims of widespread evidence of nepotism, including the awarding of contracts to relatives of Commission staff.

Last year's Court of Auditors' report showed that pounds 3bn had not been properly accounted for in 1997.