Prodi will face two inquiries into fraud

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The Independent Online

Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, faced the prospect of defending himself at two separate inquiries into fraud scandals yesterday.

Mr Prodi said that he was willing to testify before an Italian parliamentary commission looking into alleged kickbacks involving Telecom Italia and Telekom Serbia.

Meanwhile MEPs summoned the European Commission president yesterday to explain the mounting political crisis over the financial scandal at Eurostat, the EU's statistical office.

In the Telecom Italia case Mr Prodi has described accusations against him as "infamy" and denied any involvement in an alleged scam stemming from the sale of a 29 per cent stake of Telekom Serbia to STET, a holding company controlling Telecom Italia, in 1997. At that time, Mr Prodi was serving as Italian premier.

"I am available to be heard to provide any useful clarifications to the bodies legitimately in charge of ascertaining the truth," Mr Prodi wrote in a letter in today's edition of the Italian newsweekly L'Espresso.

The Eurostat case, in which money was channelled through "phantom" bank accounts, is an acute embarrassment to Mr Prodi who promised "zero tolerance" on fraud and malpractice when he took up his post.

Some MEPs have likened the situation to that of 1999 when the last European Commission was forced to resign en masse after pressure from MEPs.

Mr Prodi will be asked to account for the Commission's actions in front of political group leaders and the parliament's budgetary control committee on 25 September in Strasbourg.

Initially at least, he is likely to be questioned in private. Officials in the parliament said that this did not exclude the possibility of a later public grilling.