EU officials arrested following anti-corruption raid
One European Commission official and one European Parliament assistant were arrested on Wednesday (28 March) facing charges of corruption, in a scandal involving commission tenders for its delegation buildings in Albania and India.
The two, both of Italian nationality, were being held in custody by Belgian authorities following Belgian police raids of commission and parliament offices on Tuesday.
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An Italian businessman living just outside Brussels was also arrested on Wednesday.
Jos Colpin at the Belgian prosecutor's office confirmed that the names of the three arrested people are: Giancarlo Ciotti, 46 years old and a commission official; Sergio Tricarico, 39 years old and the assistant of the non-attached MEP Gianni Rivera; Angelo Troiano, 60 years old and a real estate agent as well as general businessman.
Further details of the case were emerging on Wednesday, with the prosecutor's office correcting and specifying some of the earlier information it had given.
Mr Colpin said Tuesday's raids had hit only one commission building in Brussels – not, as reported earlier, commission premises in Luxembourg, Italy and France. Searches in these countries only involved private people, banks and firms.
Commission officials also said the building searched was not the main Berlaymont building, as media had said earlier, but a building housing offices of the external relations (RELEX) department.
Also, the case itself does not concern commission representations within Luxembourg, Italy and France, but delegations of the EU executive outside the EU in Albania and India, Mr Colpin confirmed.
It is suspected that the arrested commission official pocketed bribes from real estate and security companies in return for rewarding them with contracts to rent, equip and secure the commission buildings in New Dehli and Tirana.
According to Germany's Stern magazine, the Italian commission official also got his house renovated in return for granting commission delegation tenders to an Italian business contact.
Mr Colpin at the Brussels prosecutor's office said that the tenders had involved "tens of millions of euros" - which makes the scale of fraud most probably at the the scale of "millions of euros."
The annual budget for commission delegations' buildings abroad stands at around €56 million for 2007.
OLAF, the EU's anti-fraud office, on Wednesday issued a statement saying "it is difficult at this stage to assess the possible financial impact on the EU budget as the services due under the various contracts have been delivered, even though it is suspected that contracts may have been awarded in an irregular manner."
A commission spokesman stressed that "the commission itself" triggered the investigation into the case after it had been tipped off on irregularities by an outside source. Brussels subsequently warned OLAF, which also participated in Tuesday's raids.
"The OLAF internal investigation started in 2004, when a complaint was received from an unsuccessful bidder in a tender procedure," OLAF said in its statement.
Italian paper Corriere della Sera reports that the commission was tipped off by a Finnish construction company which was asked to pay a €345,000 bribe for obtaining a tender for the commission in India.
The commission spokesman said the EU executive applies a "zero tolerance" policy towards corruption, but he added that "we need to respect the presumption of innocence."
It is not the first time that a case of commission in-house corruption emerges, with a scandal involving former French commissioner Edith Cresson leading to the collective resignation of the commission in 1999.
More recently in 2003, a scandal surrounding Eurostat, the EU's statistical office, saw officials creating secret bank accounts for funds from contracts signed with suspect contractors.
But asked to compare the most recent sleaze reports with these earlier cases, the commission spokesman said "I must utterly reject the lumping together of this case with other cases which have absolutely nothing to do with it."
"Here, at the slightest indication, the commission did everything it could to shed light on the situation."