Disgraced ex-French PM Cresson setto escape Belgian trial

29th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, June 29 (AFP) - Belgian prosecutors Tuesday asked to drop all charges against French former prime minister Edith Cresson related to a fraud scandal that brought down the European Commission in 1999, she said.

BRUSSELS, June 29 (AFP) - Belgian prosecutors Tuesday asked to drop all charges against French former prime minister Edith Cresson related to a fraud scandal that brought down the European Commission in 1999, she said.

The Brussels court that is hearing the case will decide on Wednesday whether to accede to the request, which would leave Cresson in the clear from Belgian criminal proceedings.

But the commission is still pursuing its own investigation against Cresson, who is due to appear before the 30-strong EU executive on Wednesday for a secret hearing.

"I'm particularly happy at what was said today," Cresson told reporters after the court hearing.

"The prosecution has dismantled all the rumours, the false noises, the lies and calumnies that were directed against me, against my department and against some of my colleagues who were unfairly pursued," she said.

Cresson, who was French prime minister from 1991 to 1992, was accused of appointing her personal dentist to a fictitious job during her 1994-1999 tenure as EU commissioner for education and research.

The scandal forced the resignation of the European Union executive led by Luxembourg's Jacques Santer five years ago to avert a vote of censure by the EU parliament.

Brussels prosecutors, after scaling back initial accusations, had wanted Cresson charged with signing 13 false mission orders to employ her former dentist and aide Rene Berthelot to the tune of EUR 150,000 (USD 181,000).

The court was to have ruled whether the case should go to trial before prosecutors asked to drop the charges. The prosecution service was not available for comment after the hearing, which took place behind closed doors.

As well as the alleged fraud involving Berthelot, Cresson was also accused of giving benefits to a French company for work carried out in connection with an EU training programme of which she was in charge.

Cresson said 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, accusing the present team led by Romano Prodi of closing ranks against her.

But a commission spokesman retorted that Santer's team had not been forced to resign over any criminal proceedings underway in Belgium, but over a report presented to the European Parliament by a committee of five "wise men".

"Obviously European commissioners, like all EU citizens, have to respect Belgian legislation. But they also have obligations specific to them that are defined in EU treaties," said the spokesman, Eric Mamer.

He confirmed that a request by Cresson to hold a press briefing at the commission after Wednesday's hearing had been refused.

"If Madame Cresson wants to organise a press conference, she's quite free to do so outside of commission premises," he said.

Cresson will be asked to explain to the commission her conduct over the affair before it decides whether to pursue a case at the European Court of Justice against her for administrative failings.

The court could strip the former French premier of her rights to a commission pension.

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

 

 

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