Belgian police seek to question envoy

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Belgian police investigating the activities of Michael Emerson, the former EU ambassador to Moscow, are expected to urge the European Commission to lift the immunity protecting him from questioning or prosecution.

Such a request would be highly embarrassing to the Commission, which is conducting its own private inquiry into Mr Emerson's business relationships and appears keen to complete it as soon as possible with the minimum controversy.

A spokesman said yesterday that the investigation could be over as soon as next week, when a decision would be taken on disciplinary action. Yesterday a police spokesman in Brussels said the investigating judge, Bruno Bultha, had called for a preliminary report. On the basis of this, it was expected that the judge would ask the Belgian foreign ministry to request the Commission to lift Mr Emerson's immunity. The process could take "some weeks".

The lifting of immunity might be required so that the Belgian police could interview Mr Emerson as a witness. Alternatively he could be interviewed as a suspect.

On Wednesday, police raided the Brussels home of Elena Prokhorova, the Russian translator employed by the Commission who became Mr Emerson's lover while he was in Moscow and is alleged to have been a partner in Mr Emerson's business ventures. Mr Emerson, who returned to a Commission job in Brussels last month, lives at the same address as Ms Prokhorova. Speaking from the house yesterday he said he was taking "accumulated holiday". It is understood that during the raid police removed Ms Prokhorova's lap-top computer.

The allegations against Mr Emerson are largely based on a series of computer-written letters allegedly to Russian contacts. In these, Mr Emerson and Ms Prokhorova apparently discuss business deals with a Russian called Ilye Baskin, referring to "our consultancy company".

The police are expected to question Ms Prokhorova about her business activities. They are also expected to investigate her Russian connections.

The allegations, denied by Mr Emerson, centre on evidence that the 55- year-old British official may have misused his position to make business deals in Russia while he was the EU ambassador, arranging payments from Russian businessmen to offshore bank accounts. Mr Emerson admits making preparations to set up a business while he was ambassador but denies any fraud or conflict of interest.

Under EU treaties, all Commission employees have immunity from prosecution in relation to activities carried out in the course of their work. The immunity has brought criticism from the Belgian police who have accused the Commission of failing to tackle internal fraud.