Cresson escapes Belgium fraud charges

30th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, June 30 (AFP) - A Belgian court on Wednesday dropped all charges against French former prime minister Edith Cresson related to an alleged corruption scandal that brought down the European Commission in 1999, court officials said.

BRUSSELS, June 30 (AFP) - A Belgian court on Wednesday dropped all charges against French former prime minister Edith Cresson related to an alleged  corruption scandal that brought down the European Commission in 1999, court officials said.

Assistant prosecutor Marianne Thomas said the charges were political and should not have been presented in a court of law.

"I have been waiting for this day for five years," said Cresson, who was Prime Minister in France before becoming commissioner in charge of education and research.

"The court has recognized that there was no case to be made against me or my collaborators," she added.

The court of first instance in Brussels said there were "no grounds for prosecution" of Cresson or any of her co-defendants, a spokeswoman for the court told AFP.

The decision freed Cresson from Belgian criminal proceedings. But the commission is still pursuing its own investigation against her and she appeared before the European Union's 30-member executive on Wednesday for a one-hour closed-door hearing.

The previous commission president Jacques Santer suffered withering attacks in the press and the European parliament after whistle-blower Paul Van Buitenen produced a dossier of corruption allegations.

An independent inquiry by five 'wise men' cleared all the commissioners, some of whom are still serving in the current executive, of personal wrongdoing. But it said the commission lacked political responsibility, and the executive collectively resigned.

Cresson has strenuously denied that research contracts she awarded to her personal dentist, Rene Bertholet, or the way in which her department awarded business to a French company constituted wrongdoing.

Commenting on her appearance before the commission Wednesday, she said that the body had shown comprehension for her argument that "as commissioner, you are at the mercy of no matter whom ... if Kafka forms part of European culture, they have had an example of it there."

She denounced accusations made against her, notably by Van Buitenen, as "gossip" that had been whipped up into "a climate of hysteria."

Brussels prosecutors had initially said Cresson should face criminal charges and then scaled back their request, demanding that she be charged with signing 13 false employment documents for Berthelot worth a total EUR 150,000 (USD 181,000).

But they changed their minds on Tuesday, during a closed-door hearing, and asked for the charges to be dropped.

Cresson said on Tuesday the request to drop the charges showed that Santer's commission had been forced to resign in 1999 for "absolutely nothing".

"We gave credit to rumours," she said.

If the commission decides against Cresson, it could bring a case at the European Court of Justice for administrative failings. The court could strip her of part or all of her substantial pension if it found she had committed abuses.

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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