EU official fears `danger from guards'

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The Independent Online
EUROPEAN COMMISSION officials yesterday denied claims that the whistleblower at the centre of sleaze and corruption allegations was in danger from armed security guards who are employed by the Brussels authorities.

In a day of claims and rebuttal, Paul van Buitenen, an official suspended by the commission for leaking internal documents, said he had evidence that European Union security guards were arming themselves with rifles complete with telescopic lenses and silencers.

In a letter sent by Mr van Buitenen to a superior in the commission and seen by The Independent, he claimed his office telephone was being tapped and said he believed he and his family were in serious danger.

The commission's official spokesperson denied that EU security guards were armed, adding that investigations into Mr van Buitenen's claims had shown them to be groundless. Bodyguards carried handguns, she said, but to suggest that the security personnel were arming themselves in the way he claimed was "absolutely crazy".

However, pressure mounted on the 20 members of the commission as other allegations, fanned by Mr van Buitenen's claims, piled up. Jacques Santer, the commission president, was even forced to defend his wife, Daniele Binot, after questions about her alleged property interests in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

Mr Santer denied that his wife had a holding in a company which had leased property to the EU in a deal now under investigation by the Luxembourg judicial authorities.

His wife owned no property other than the three residential houses they owned jointly, he said. "We share our goods. She has no such holding or no plans to buy into one and I would be amazed if the Luxembourg police had any such information."

Erkki Liikanen, the commissioner in charge of the EU budget, also had to defend his personal integrity after suggestions that his spouse - a Finnish public servant - may have benefited professionally from being married to a commissioner.

Mr Santer vowed to remain at the helm of the EU executive, even if a majority of MEPs censures the commission in a crunch vote next week. Only if two-thirds of MEPs support the censure motion will the commission resign, he said. While that is unlikely to happen, even those MEPs who support the commission, such as Alan Donnelly, leader of the British Labour group, have called for tighter controls. "The commission have to realise that they have to make a substantial improvement in their procedures," he said.

Mr Santer conceded there had been some mismanagement but accused the whistleblowing official of usurping the role of his superiors and of the judicial authorities. To call the entire commission into question in such an indiscriminate fashion was he said "intolerable".

He also rallied to the defence of the former French prime minister, Edith Cresson, now commissioner for education and training. It is alleged that there had been cronyism and mismanagement in her division. "There is no question of fraud and no suspicion of corruption," Mr Santer said.

But last night Liberal MEPs demanded the resignation of Ms Cresson and of the Spanish commissioner, Manuel Marin. They said she had to accept responsibility for the controversy surrounding a multimillion pound training scheme in which contracts had allegedly gone to favoured private companies. Mr Marin, who is in charge of overseas aid, should accept responsibility for the misuse of funds in his division of the commission, they said.

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