`Wise men' probe EU's Mafia links

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The Independent Online
THE "WISE MEN" who last week exposed widespread fraud and nepotism throughout the EU are to launch a second inquiry into allegations of corruption in the award of multi-billion-pound building contracts, write Marie Woolf and Stephen Castle.

They are certain to examine long-standing claims that members of the Italian Mafia have used corrupt means to win lucrative work for companies they controlled.

The Conference of Presidents, the most powerful body in the European Parliament, will tomorrow charge the experts with investigating whether nepotism, favouritism and bribery were involved in deciding which EU companies should construct buildings and roads throughout Europe.

The new report, expected to be completed before June, could prove more devastating than the first, which last week led to the resignation of all 20 commissioners. The wise men will be asked to investigate allegations that friends of commissioners and other EU officials benefited from lucrative rebuilding projects.

Tony Blair will this week push for a new code of practice on EU contracts. At a heads of government meeting in Berlin he will also call for the appointment of a European sleaze- buster, similar to the National Audit Office in the UK.