Sunday

26th Feb 2017

Romanian MEP charged with defrauding over €400,000

  • Adrian Severin has still not resigned from the European Parliament (Photo: European Parliament)

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.

Anti-corruption prosecutors in Bucharest on Monday (16 July) said they had filed new charges against Severin, after having started an investigation linked to the 'cash for amendments' scandal uncovered by the Sunday Times last year.

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"Proceedings were launched for a new offence of forgery and the use of forgeries that resulted in the illegal obtaining of general European community budget funds, with serious consequences," the National Anticorruption Directorate said in a press statement.

The estimated damage to the EU budget is of €436,663, based on fake invoices Severin allegedly filed during 2007-2010. "The documents he presented are linked to a series of consultancy contracts with six Romanian companies, set up with the purpose of justifying fictitious services," the prosecutors said.

Several other persons have been charged in the case, they added.

Unlike two other lawmakers from Austria and Slovenia exposed by the Sunday Times reporters as willing to accept payments for placing amendments, Severin has not stepped down and still serves an independent MEP, after being expelled from the Social-Democratic group.

A former minister of foreign affairs and heavyweight in Romania's post-Communist Social Democratic Party, Severin was also stripped of his immunity so prosecutors could start criminal proceedings. He maintains he has done nothing illegal and that the investigation is politically motivated.

Sunday Times reporters posed as lobbyists offering to pay Severin for placing amendments.

Following through on corruption cases is a key issue for Romania. It has been under extra political monitoring by the European Commission since it joined the EU in 2007 to maintain pressure to have its system cleared up.

Severin's ally and former boss Adrian Nastase, who served as Prime Minister between 2000 and 2004, was the first high-level politician to be sentenced to prison earlier this spring.

A report by the EU commission due Wednesday is set to look at all these developments, along with the recent overstepping of powers by the Social-Liberal government, led by Victor Ponta.

"We have the moral authority to do so," a spokesman for the EU commission said Monday, when asked if there was a legal basis on which the EU body is acting.

While no EU laws seem to have been broken during the political infighting in Bucharest, the Romanian government has ignored constitutional court rulings. It has also issued decrees limiting the powers of constitutional judges, accused of favouring the president who is currently suspended from office.

A referendum on 29 July is set to confirm or reject the president's impeachment for alleged abuse of power.

MEPs back new code of conduct after bribery scandal

Euro-deputies in the key committee dealing with parliamentary rules on Thursday approved a new ethics code obliging them to more transparency and disclosure after a cash-for-amendments scandal uncovered earlier this year.

MEPs not serious about transparency

From frivolous responses, illegible scrawls, to no answers at all, several members of the European Parliament are not serious when it comes to declaring their financial interests, a survey carried out by an NGO has shown.

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.

Analysis

Why Romania erupted in protest

Current anger over corruption laws can be traced back to a night-club fire in 2015, when many died because of lax safety standards. Romanians then realised that corruption can kill.

French police raid Le Pen's party office

Officers raid the National Front headquarters near Paris over allegations that leader Marine Le Pen used fake EU parliament contracts to pay her personal staff.

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