Cresson corruption charges are dropped

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The Independent Online

Belgium dropped fraud charges against the former French prime minister and EU commissioner Edith Cresson yesterday, abandoning a case which led to the resignation of the European Commission in 1999.

Belgium dropped fraud charges against the former French prime minister and EU commissioner Edith Cresson yesterday, abandoning a case which led to the resignation of the European Commission in 1999.

The Brussels public prosecutor said there was insufficient evidence to pursue the case against Mme Cresson and six of her former aides in the commission, who were accused of signing false expenses claims.

"There is no proof," the prosecutor, Marianne Thomas, said. "I think that the Belgian justice system was used to settle scores. This is a political, not a criminal, case."

Mme Cresson, who was present in court, was delighted with the decision. "The European Commission resigned for nothing," Mme Cresson said. "The prosecutor ... dismantled all the rumours, all the false whispers, all the lies and slanders that were spread not only about me but about the whole commission."

The European Commission is to pursue, none the less, its own investigations into whether Mme Cresson should lose her European pension rights for misuse of EU funds.

Mme Cresson will plead her case before the 30 members of the EU executive today. The affair turns on a contract given by Mme Cresson to a close, personal friend, René Berthelot, to undertake research on Aids for the EU. M. Berthelot was a dentist from Mme Cresson's home town of Chatellerault. He had no expertise on Aids and an internal EU inquiry found that his research - for which he was paid €136,000 (£91,000) - was "not even of minimum interest".

M. Berthelot has since died, bringing the Belgian prosecution against him to an end and making the prosecution of Mme Cresson and her officials, for signing expenses claimed by the dentist, difficult to pursue.

When the facts first emerged in 1999, Mme Cresson refused to resign and the French government refused to order her to step down. The case provoked a hue and cry against alleged corruption in the commission, which has never been proved. After a "no confidence" vote in the European Parliament, the entire commission, then led by Jacques Santer, handed in its resignation.

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