• The office of Spanish MEP Pablo Zalba, still open on Monday despite corruption allegations (Photo: EUobserver)

Confusion reigns over MEP cash-for-amendments probe

28.03.11 @ 17:52

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - The European Parliament is continuing to deny EU anti-fraud investigators access to its buildings, while the office of a fourth MEP implicated in the ongoing cash-for-amendments scandal remained open on Monday (28 March).

As different authorities fight over who should lead the corruption probe, alarm has grown that incriminating data needed for a conviction could be destroyed amidst the confusion.

OLAF - the EU's anti-fraud office - has said EU treaties and legislation hand it a clear mandate to carry out an investigation, a position European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek denied in a letter to the anti-fraud body last Thursday.

The Polish politician says OLAF's job is to investigates cases of misspent EU money.

"The EU budget does not necessarilly have to be directly effected," OLAF spokesman Pavel Borkovec responded to this website.

"Clearly this is an alleged breach of rules within the EU institutions so if it's not a case for OLAF why do we have a mandate to investigate EU staff and members of the institutions?"

The squabbling relates to a recent undercover investigation by the Sunday Times, with the newspaper claiming several MEPs were willing to take money in exchange for filing legislative amendments.

Austrian centre-right euro-deputy Ernst Strasser and Slovenian Socialist Zoran Thaler have since resigned, while Romanian Socialist MEP Adrian Severin has been expelled from parliament's Socialist group but continues to act as an Independent MEP. All three have denied wrongdoing.

On Sunday the British newspaper claimed a fourth MEP had succumbed to offers of money from fake lobbyists, pointing the finger at Spanish centre-right euro-deputy Pablo Zalba

Zalba has said he was the victim of a "trap" in which journalists requested two amendments to draft legislation on consumer protection, reports the Spanish daily El Pais.

He says he agreed to table the second amendment as he believed it would help protect small investors, but the Sunday Times team claim they made it clear to the euro-deputy that he would be paid for his services.

On Monday Zalba's office in the European Parliament remained open.

"I opened the door to his office and could see three assistants or stagiaires," said a parliamentary official. "I stepped back and took a photo, they were very embarrassed."

Access to the offices of the three original MEPs implicated in the scandal has been blocked by the internal security firm currently hired by the parliament, G4S, a company which included Austria's Strasser on its supervisory board until very recently.

Independent MEP Martin Ehrenhauser said the lethargy in closing the fourth office was unacceptable. "Why is nobody sealing Zalba's office too? Is the parliament protecting the evidence from or for the investigations?"

Meanwhile member state prosecutors have launched their own investigations, with Transparency International raising concerns that multiple and conflicting jurisdictions could prevent a swift and thorough resolution to the ongoing scandal.

The group argues that the Belgian Public Federal Prosecutor is best placed to lead the investigation.