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17th Jan 2021

Austrian former MEP risks 10 years' jail

  • Former Austrain MEP Ernst Strasser is facing corruption charges after having accepting a bribe to table an amendment at the European Parliament (Photo: Fotolia)

Special prosecutors in Vienna charged disgraced former Austrian euro-deputy and interior minister Ernst Strasser with corruption on Thursday (9 August).

Strasser - who was one of three MEPs caught on camera taking a bribe to influence legislation at the European Parliament in March last year - continues to deny any wrong doing.

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An undercover sting by journalists from the UK's Sunday Times newspaper offered the then MEP an €100,000 annual fee to push through amendments that would favour the interests of a fictional corporate client.

Strasser, who was MEP in the centre-right Austrian People's Party from 2009 to 2011, could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Slovenian centre-right Zoran Thaler also resigned as MEP after he accepted a similar bribe from the journalists.

Meanwhile, Adrian Severin of Romania continues to pursue his functions as an MEP despite also been caught on camera accepting €12,000 for "two to three days' work."

The job would have included persuading Romanian centre-right MEP Sebastian Bodu to table an amendment.

'Cash for amendments scandal' - Adrian Severin

The scandal prompted the European Parliament to create a code of conduct which came into force on 1 January 2012. The code is not retroactive, but Olaf, the EU's anti-fraud office, recommended that Severin be sanctioned under the parliament's earlier rules of procedure.

Olaf's own investigation into Severin's case concluded that he did not act alone when he supported the amendment in return for payment. The anti-fraud office then passed the file onto Romania and recommended judicial action.

Meawnhile, Polish centre-left MEP Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg - a member of the parliament's bureau, which enforces the new code of conduct - has defended Severin in a comment piece published in June in New Europe, a Greek-based weekly.

Oedenberg said Severin's innocence should remain intact until he is proven guilty. Anti-corruption prosecutors in Bucharest, in a separate case, charged Severin with siphoning €436,000 from the EU budget by writing fake invoices.

The Brussels-based transparency watchdog, Corporate Europe Observatory, says on its website that "the case of Severin has clearly challenged the parliamentary authorities, as well as the previous European Parliamentary leadership of Mr Buzek and the current presidency of Mr Schulz."

Severin was kicked out of the Socialist party and now works as an independent MEP. He is a member of the parliament's committee of foreign affairs and is on the delegation for relations with the People's Republic of China.

The Alter-EU transparency group says Severin is a paid member of international advisory boards at UniCredit International, Chayton Duna Capital Property Fund and Finite Assets.

In a debate on the rule of law in Russia during a plenary session in Strasbourg in February 2011, Severin was quoted as saying: "We should not act on the basis of mere allegations, rumours or various interest lobby groups. Our credibility, generated by the fairness and maturity of our approach, as well as our firmness and openness, is the best weapon we have in our dialogue with Russia."

Confusion reigns over MEP cash-for-amendments probe

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.

Romanian MEP charged with defrauding over €400,000

Adrian Severin, a Romanian MEP accused of having taken bribes from journalists posing as lobbyists, has been charged with siphoning €436,000 from the EU budget to bogus consultancy firms in Romania. He is still in office, claiming his innocence.

MEPs to limit anti-fraud investigations

MEPs have agreed to give EU anti-fraud investigators “immediate and unannounced access” to all EU institutions, while keeping some special perks for themselves.

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