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EU officials raided

Published on 27/03/2007

BRUSSELS, March 27, 2007 (AFP) - Police in Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Italy launched simultaneous dawn raids Tuesday in a corruption investigation involving European public servants, the Brussels prosecutor's office said.

More than 150 police took part in over 30 raids, including at the European Commission’s premises and the European Parliament in Brussels, in which investigators seized numerous documents, it said.

Homes, businesses and banking offices were also raided. Police were questioning an undisclosed number of individuals and the prosecutors office would not rule out arrests being made.

The investigation is trying to establish “the conditions under which some European public tenders were awarded, in the framework of the search for buildings aimed at housing European Commission delegations abroad and the installation of security equipment for these buildings,” the prosecutors said.

The probe was looking into whether European civil servants and company managers were involved in organised crime, associating with known criminals, violating professional secrets, forgery and breaking public procurement laws.

The Commission, the EU’s executive body, said it was cooperating fully with the investigation, which was launched three years ago.

“The Commission… is collaborating fully with the national authorities carrying out this inquiry in the interest of shedding full light on the allegations and suspicisions that exist,” a spokesman said.

“It’s an ongoing investigation so it’s not appropriate at this time for the Commission to comment on this investigation,” said chief Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger.

“Until the end of the inquiry and facts are established, presumption of innocence must prevail,” he said.

Laitenberger said he did not know about any homes being searched and refused to comment when asked whether the people concerned at the Commission would stay on in their posts.

He added that the EU’s OLAF anti-fraud office was assisting in the inquiry.

The prosecutors office said OLAF, Italian Carabinieri, French financial police, and Belgian federal and fraud squad officers had all played a role in the raids.

A corruption scandal in the late 1990s brought the entire Commission down.

Last July, the EU’s top court found former French premier Edith Cresson guilty of favouritism when she was an EU official in the 1990s, part of a wider corruption scandal that ended in the Commission’s demise in 1999.

Cresson, who served as research and education commissioner in Brussels from 1995 to 1999, was notably accused of hiring a dentist from her home town, Rene Berthelot, as an advisor, despite being warned it was against EU rules.

The scandal surrounding Cresson, who was also French prime minister in 1991 and 1992, helped spark the collective resignation in March 1999 of the entire European Commission under then president Jacques Santer.
Copyright AFP

Subject: Belgian news