MEPs raise fears of sleaze whitewash

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The Independent Online

MEPs kept up the pressure over an EU fraud scandal yesterday, accusing the EU external relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, of prejudging the outcome of formal investigations, and they warned of a possible whitewash.

Last Wednesday, European MPs will be shown the findings of two inquiries - not yet officially completed - detailing how up to €920,000 (£640,000) of cash generated by the EU statistical office, Eurostat, was channelled into unofficial bank accounts.

Amid signs the authorities in Brussels are determined to tough out the row, Mr Patten has already gone on record to defend the European Commission's behaviour.

Asked whether the European Commissioner responsible for Eurostat, Pedro Solbes, would have to resign, Mr Patten said: "No"

He also suggested the problems arose before the current European Commission came to power, and argued there was no personal enrichment involved.

"Is it the case that these funds were going to pay for mistresses' furs or villas in the South of France? It doesn't appear to have been," said Mr Patten. "That doesn't, of course, excuse it."

Reijo Kemppinen, the spokesman for the EC president, Romano Prodi, said the two inquiries will be completed a day later than expected, on Wednesday. He added Mr Patten's comments were not based on inside knowledge but were an expression of confidence.

However Chris Heaton-Harris, a Conservative on the European Parliament's budgetary control committee, said Mr Patten's intervention "begged the question whether Chris has been briefed or whether he is prejudging the outcome".

Members of two major Spanish parties have rallied to support Mr Solbes.

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