MaltaToday | 24 Feb 2008 | No rush to publish MEP accounts despite fraud claims
NEWS | Sunday, 24 February 2008

No rush to publish MEP accounts despite fraud claims

Matthew Vella
David Darmanin

Malta’s MEPs have affirmed they are following European Parliament accounting regulations to the letter, after Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies wrote to the EU’s anti-fraud office Olaf to investigate an allegations of embezzlement by MEPs who did not account properly for €140 million a year allocated to staff costs.
European Parliament officials are saying the internal audit report, currently in the hands of the Budgetary Control Committee, does not deal with individual MEPs or reveal cases of fraud.
But Chris Davies alleges that there has been massive fraud and embezzlement, as in the case of an unnamed MEP believed to have taken money but employed no-one, and another who had just one member of staff.
Davies asked Olaf’s director-general to investigate the way MEPs spend money given to them to pay their staff. He is one of a group of MEPs on the European Parliament’s Budget Control Committee allowed to look at the secret internal report, under surveillance and without taking notes or copies.
Davies has called for the document to be published and allow legal proceedings to follow. He claims the allegations will lead to the imprisonment of a number of MEPs. “I think it’s embezzlement and fraud on a massive, massive scale.”
MaltaToday has asked Malta’s five MEPs and their party secretary-generals whether they would be publishing their MEP accounts to show how they have used the money paid to them by the European Parliament.
Nationalist Party secretary-general Joe Saliba told MaltaToday that both Nationalist MEPs Simon Busuttil and David Casa satisfied the applicable rules of the European Parliament on staff allowances.
“There is no single rule that they do not respect. This has been repeatedly made clear to you over the past months and years.”
Saliba said neither of the two PN MEPs have ever been subjected or are subject to an investigation or inquiry.
“The report you refer to is held in the strong-room of the European Parliament and I have no access to it. However, on the basis of contacts with MEPs who did look at it, I can confirm that there is no mention of any MEP by name, no mention of any political group and no mention of any country.”
Labour MEP Louis Grech said that he complied with all EU parliament regulations, adding that he was obliged to send detailed accounts on a yearly basis.
His colleague Joseph Muscat, who said he had not heard of the report due to commitments abroad, urged the report to be available to the general public. “I conform to all EU parliament rules and I am personally awaiting the agreement between Parliament and the Ombudsman on the decision.”
Labour MEP John Attard-Montalto told MaltaToday that “if any MEPs are actually defrauding the European Parliament, then any action against such fraud must be welcome.”
Franz Bruner, director general of Olaf, will be launching an inquiry and has demanded to see the audit report by the end of this week.
Some of the third parties – known as “service providers” – whom MEPs contract to handle the money they are given, were not registered in Belgium, as they have to be by law. Other service providers appear to be little more than names on company letterheads. There are apparently “many instances” where there is no proof that social security payments have been paid for employees.
In his letter to Olaf’s director-general, Chris Davies said the report was declared confidential under the Parliament’s rules according to Regulation 1049/2001 – the same rules invoked by the European Parliament in refusing MaltaToday access to the accounts of MEPs.
MaltaToday had complained to the Ombudsman on the parliament’s refusal to divulge MEPs’ accounts. The Ombudsman later recommended that the EP give MaltaToday access to the accounts filed by Malta’s five MEPs.


MaltaToday’s call for more transparency

Although MEPs sign a declaration of interests, the European Parliament has refused to divulge their accounts and where the money it pays its MEPs to fund their offices actually goes. This was the case with MaltaToday’s complaint in 2005, when it asked for the accounts of Malta’s five MEPs to be published.
The complaint earned the support of the European Ombudsman and the European Data Protection Supervisor. The European Parliament will have to present its official reply to the Ombudsman on whether it will be complying with his recommendation to make MEP accounts public.
Many MEPs, such as Chris Davies and Hans-Peter Martin, have campaigned for reforms to the payments system at the EP. For example, next year all MEPs’ travel expenses for the monthly trip to Strasbourg will require a proof of receipt – they were previously eligible for a distance allowance, an extra payment per kilometre travelled.
MEPs will also be paid a gross monthly salary of €7,413 rather than the same salary as their home MPs. Italian MEPs for example will see a €4,000 cut in their salaries because of this new reform, while Maltese MEPs can expect a 450% pay rise.
Even the €287 daily allowance for MEPs signing in he register will be changed: a half-day session will only make them eligible for a half-day allowance.

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