Fraud team tries to find missing euros

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The EU's anti-fraud office and French prosecutors are investigating claims that €900,000 (£640,000) went missing at Eurostat, the organisation that provides statistics for the European Commission.

According to the allegations, the money, the proceeds from the sale of Eurostat data to a private company, was paid into a special bank account in Luxembourg which has now been closed.

The European Commission confirmed yesterday that Eurostat was being investigated by the EU's internal fraud office and that a file had been sent to prosecutors in Paris, where a company that paid the money was based.

Two senior officials said to have been at the centre of the episode were reported as denying any wrongdoing, arguing that the cash was spent on salaries and public relations. Neither has been suspended and the European Commission said it was examining the case.

Reijo Kemppinen, the Commission's chief spokesman, said the allegations "seem to refer to activities pre-dating the [Romano] Prodi Commission".

Officials believe the bank account in question was opened and closed during the mandate of the last European Commission, headed by Jacques Santer, whose team resigned in 1999 after allegations of cronyism and poor management.

Mr Kemppinen said the Commission could not take action until it received detailed information from the fraud office, and considered whether disciplinary action was justified.

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