Fired official told of more irregularities

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AS MEPs gathered in Strasbourg to debate fraud in the European Commission, the whistleblower at the heart of the scandal was at home in suburban Brussels - talking to a former colleague.

Paul van Buitenen says that since the row broke he has been inundated with visits, phone calls and e-mails from officials he worked with before his recent suspension. Most have been supportive, but others - like yesterday's visitor - have given more information to back up his claims of irregularities.

"I have learnt more about the Commission in the last three or four weeks," he says, "than in the 10 previous years during which I worked for the institution."

Part of that picture is, he adds, an unsavoury one because the institution has taken few prisoners during its fightback. He claims the Commission has "thrown dirt", raiding his files for information or scraps of letters which can be used to discredit him.

The briefing against him paints a portrait, in his own words, of someone who was sidelined for "incompetence", or of "a lunatic" and "a religious nut".

Mr van Buitenen is a regular churchgoer and gave a half-hour interview to an evangelical radio station in his native Holland. But he describes himself as an Anglican churchgoer rather than someone who is "extremely religious" or fanatical.

Apparently wild allegations from Mr van Buitenen, that the Commission possessed sniper rifles with telescopic lenses and silencers, were at first denied. Last week, however, the Commission admitted they had the weapons - although they still deny suggestions that Mr van Buitenen was intimidated.