Sunday

14th Aug 2022

EU Parliament sued over secrecy on Nazi MEP expenses

  • Greek Golden Dawn co-leader and MEP Ioannis Lagos was arrested in Belgium last year (Photo: Wikipedia)
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The European Parliament is being sued for refusing to show how jailed neo-Nazi and MEP, Ioannis Lagos, spent EU taxpayer money on himself.

Lagos was sentenced 13 years in a Greek prison for running the Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party that was declared a criminal organisation in late 2020.

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The secrecy of his expenses was maintained by Lívia Járóka when she was still parliament vice-president overseeing freedom of information appeals.

Járóka once used her own MEP immunity to avoid paying a speeding ticket in Brussels.

She had also declined to release EU salary perk details on her former boss József Szájer, a disgraced Hungarian politician who co-founded the Fidesz party.

Now she is using similar arguments to not release any details into how Lagos continued, despite his arrest and jail sentence, to presumably bill the EU taxpayer for travel and other expenses.

"Immunity serves to protect the functioning and independence of the parliament and of its members," she said, in a letter to the German-based transparency group, Fragdenstaat.

Járóka also noted disclosure would undermine the internal decision-making processes of the European Parliament and lead to "a culture of self-censorship."

She also referenced the protection of personal data, a tactic often employed by European authorities to avoid scrutiny of elected officials and public servants.

Even a partial disclosure was refused.

See you in court

The lawsuit has been lodged at the EU general court in Luxembourg by Fragdenstaat.

"For us there is a very legitimate question whether these funds were used by Lagos to perpetuate criminal activities," said Luisa Izuzquiza, the Brussels liaison for Fragdenstaat.

Fragdenstaat had first demanded the European Parliament release the Lagos information in a freedom of information request in April of last year.

Their initial request was declined. So they appealed and received the final response from Járóka a few months later.

Now Fragdenstaat has decided to make the case public with the hope of getting an EU court judgement in less than two years.

But they will likely face obstacles.

The same court had in 2018 ruled in a similar case against a group of journalists, who tried to get the European Parliament to reveal how all MEPs spend their generous monthly allowances.

On top of their salaries and daily allowances, each MEP also receives €4,778 every month for office supplies and other related expenditures.

Nobody is allowed to verify those expenses, amid claims it infringes an MEP's independence and personal data, the general EU court in Luxembourg agreed, in a ruling slammed by Transparency International.

At the time, the president of the court Marc Jaeger told EUobserver that it was more important to protect an MEP's personal data than the public's right to know how their elected lawmakers spend public finances on themselves.

But Fragdenstaat's Izuzquiza believes they can overturn the ruling because the case deals with only Ioannis Lagos, who is now sitting in a Greek prison.

"If there is one case where we can find among all the MEPs where there is very strong public interest it is this one," she said.

Lagos' unaccounted spending

After Greece sought to arrest and extradite Lagos, it took the European Parliament seven months before revoking his immunity, at which point he likely continued to bill the EU taxpayer.

He maintained access to the generous monthly allowance of almost €5,000, which is presumably used for office expenses.

He had also complained of not being able to pocket the daily European Parliament allowance of €323 due to Covid restrictions.

Even after his arrest in April 2021, he continued to receive a monthly MEP salary , a spokesperson at the European Parliament had confirmed.

An early version of this article incorrectly stated Ioannis Lagos was a former MEP, when in fact he is still an MEP.

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