Saturday, February 23, 2008

European Parliament faces fraud enquiry

MEP Davies confirms "OLAF has the report"

European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) moved in swiftly on February 22, 2008 to secure a copy of "The Document," from the European parliament within 24 hours of requesting a copy, about which one member of the European Parliament (MEP) quipped, "This report is dynamite." The report prepared by European parliament's internal auditors focuses on how MEPs spent or allegedly misspent the taxpayers’ money.

So perilous is the extent of the fraud, it is claimed by a parliamentary source that the report can only be seen by members of the Budget Control Committee in a secret room, under surveillance and without taking notes or making copies.

Realising the gravity and extent of the possible misuse of public funds, Chris Davies, the young British MEP took the first step to bring it to light calling upon Franz Bruener, OLAF's Director General in a letter (see below), "As a member of the European Parliament's Budget Control Committee I was this morning permitted to read a copy of Internal Audit Report 06/02 on the parliamentary assistance allowance paid to MEPs for the employment of their staff. Currently I believe this amounts annually to more than 140 million Euro and represents some 10 percent of the Parliament's total expenditure."

MEP Davies told this journalist, "I believe the auditor's report was intended to be published and I think it a disgrace that it is being kept secret by the parliamentary authorities. The Parliament preaches the virtues of transparency and openness and it should start to practice them. The next step is that a copy should be given to every MEP and made public. Let the taxpayers judge what it says for themselves."

Asked to comment on reactions from fellow MEPs, Davies noted, "Support yes from some MEPs (Dutch for example, who have to work within a strong code of conduct agreed by the parties in that country)." He admitted to "some pressure from other British MEPs to shut up. Never on the basis that they are doing something wrong, but always from those who are passionate pro-Europeans, know how difficult it is to argue the pro-EU case in Britain, and believe that these revelations undermine the reputation of the Parliament. They also argue that attempts are being made to achieve reform."

MEP Davies said, "Too often it is a case of blame the messenger instead of blaming the cheats."

According to a parliamentary source, the report was kept in a secret room in an undisclosed location protected by biometric locks and security guards. Those few who enter can only do so after signing confidentiality agreements, and are prohibited from discussing what they discover inside.

The reliable source said on a condition of anonymity, "The secret room houses a confidential dossier on the ‘extensive, widespread and criminal abuse’ by Euro-MPs of staff allowances. So explosive are the figures that officials are terrified by the damage it could do should its contents be revealed to the public."

According to sources who have seen the report, the secret enquiry documents abuses of staff allowances by a sample group of 167 Euro MPs. Although the report does not name and shame any individual MEP, the detailed account of how in an unaccountable way the tax-payers' hard earned money is squandered with no taps or checks is appalling.
According to another reliable source, "It is widely rumoured that Italian MEPs have in many cases set up shadow companies/organisations to manage their staff budget. These organisations comply with the Parliament's rules but actually allow the money to be channelled towards individuals or political parties."

Asked to comment on it, MEP Davies said, "But what can you do? I am told that there is no mention whatsoever of this scandal in the Italian or Greek press, so how do you generate any pressure for change?"

Explaining the way the alleged fraud may have worked, MEP Davies added, "The Parliament provides a second pension scheme that the majority of MEPs have joined voluntarily. Parliament pays two thirds (GBP 18,000 pa or 24,000 Euro approximately) and the MEP is supposed to pay one third (GBP 9000 pa or 12,000 Euro). But the MEPs' contribution is deducted from their office costs allowance ‘for administrative convenience.’"

The catch lies in the fact that MEPs are supposed to pay it back personally but then the question arises how many do and how many just are too lazy to make that transfer. Commenting on this MEP Davies said, "I regard this equivalent to embezzlement and it is another disgrace that the Parliament has refused to change the arrangements that permit it."

Moreover, the fact to be noted is that the office allowance is worth more than GBP 30,000 pa (40,000 Euro) and "NO RECEIPTS WHATSOEVER" have to be provided to justify expenditure according to MEP Davies.

In the light of all this there was a panic among the lawmakers at what damage the report can inflict in the run-up to the European parliamentary elections in 2009.

"I love the Parliament. I am proud of the work that I and my colleagues do as MEPs. But I am angry that we allow procedures to exist that bring us all into contempt," MEP Davies concluded.

The report, its findings and its recommendations, are due to be discussed at the next Tuesday (February 26) meeting of the Budget Control Committee under the item 2006 discharge: EC general budget.



Mr Franz Bruener

Dear Mr Bruener

As a member of the European Parliament's Budget Control Committee I was this morning permitted to read a copy of Internal Audit Report 06/02 on the parliamentary assistance allowance paid to MEPs for the employment of their staff. Currently I believe this amounts annually to more than €140 million and represents some 10% of the Parliament's total expenditure.

Disgracefully in my view the document has been declared confidential under the Parliament's rules, pursuant to Article 4 of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001, that gives such authority to the President of Parliament, the chairmen of the parliamentary committees concerned and the Secretary-General and/or any person they have duly authorised by written delegation. I was therefore allowed to read the document only under supervision and was not allowed to make notes. Members authorised to read it are required to sign a confidentiality statement that prohibits the dissemination of the information.

The report, its findings and its recommendations, are due to be discussed at the meeting of the Budget Control Committee on 26 February under the item 2006 discharge: EC general budget.

OLAF was established to uphold the principle that the European Institutions have a duty to guarantee, with regard to the taxpayer, the best use of their money and in particular to fight as effectively as possible against fraud and any other illegal activity harmful to the financial interests of the Community.

In my view the findings of the Parliament's internal auditors fall within OLAF's terms of reference.

If a copy of report 06/02 has not yet been provided to you I believe you should insist that the parliamentary authorities provide you with one, and thereafter that the auditors should give you such further information as may be needed to commence investigations against individuals.

There is a great reluctance amongst some MEPs to ensure that the financial procedures of the European Parliament in relation to its members are put on the same sound basis that we would expect of other public institutions. Maybe when some MEPs are named, exposed for defrauding the Parliament and the public, and are sent to prison, a more acceptable approach will be adopted.

I would be pleased to discuss this matter with yourself or Ms Heinkelmann.
Yours faithfully

Chris Davies MEP
European Parliament

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