Barroso faces questions over domestic scandal
European lawmakers want to see European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso grilled over a scandal involving funds to his Social Democratic Party in Portugal – something also likely to fall under a criminal investigation by the Portuguese state prosecutor.
"These findings cannot be dismissed as an internal problem. [They] test Barroso's integrity and independence", a Belgian green MEP Bart Staes told the Financial Times in response to the scandal.
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Doubts centre around the payment made by construction and engineering company Somague to the Social democratic Party (PSD) at the time when Mr Barroso led the party. He was elected president of the PSD in 1999 and became prime minister in April 2002.
According to the FT, Somague paid the social democrats €233,000 for services provided to the party by a public relations company. Portugal's constitutional court ruled in June this year that such a payment exceeded the legal limit set for private donations to political parties.
A new shadow of suspicion has fallen on the case since the June ruling. The PSD's finance director – now public works minister – reportedly petitioned the state prosecutor's office in favour of the construction company in the adjudication of a motorway construction and operation contract.
The contract had been awarded by a previous socialist government to a consortium competing with Somague, which challenged the decision.
The former PSD's general secretary Jose Luis Arnaut has accepted "objective responsibility" for the funding, but claims he was not aware of the facts at the time.
Some point out that Mr Barroso heading the party at the time should also take responsibility, with members of the European Parliament urging him to reveal what precisely he knew about the payment.
The commission president's spokesperson declined to comment on the case, underlining that "this is a national issue". She added, however, Mr Barroso was ready to answer any questions the Portuguese authorities and MEPs might raise.