Europe in turmoil: Dentist crony extracted fat salary

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The Independent Online
CRITICS OF Brussels cronyism have found a rich seam to mine in the appointments made by Edith Cresson.

The joke bandied about the EU cognoscenti is that if you call her office, the switchboard is liable to say: "I'm sorry, Ms Cresson's line is busy. Can I put you through to her dentist?"

Ms Cresson employed a dentist, Rene Berthelot, from her home town of Chatellerault as a scientific adviser.

Mr Berthelot had worked for only a month before suffering a heart attack. It did not stop him staying on the payroll and extracting a total of about pounds 60,000. When the payments were uncovered, allegations - denied by Ms Cresson - surfaced that she intervened to try to block their recovery.

Mr Berthelot was recruited when Ms Cresson was putting together the 5th Framework Programme of Research and Development. As former mayor of Chatellerault, Ms Cresson was well-connected in her home town and was keen to bring in local support to her Brussels fiefdom.

When questioned about her choice of Berthelot by the European Parliament's Committee on Budgetary Control on 28 October 1998, Ms Cresson confirmed that she had known Mr Berthelot for many years.

She said she had wished to draw on his advice in her capacity as a member of the European Commission and said she had explained to her staff that she wished to have an independent adviser to help her prepare the programme.

Such an adviser, she said, should have a scientific background combined with practical experience and, above all, should "enjoy her confidence".

The value of the independent advice was called into question after an internal audit of movements and expenditure.

Mr Berthelot seemed to do most of his fact-finding missions on expenses back in his home town. The audit found that he apparently undertook 17 missions. Of those, 13 were to Chatellerault. Apparently two of the missions never took place.