Monday, April 18, 2005

Sleaze hits Barroso

See also UPDATE

News is breaking of what may be a major scandal involving EU commission president, José Manuel Durao Barroso and Greek shipping, banking, construction and petroleum magnate, Spiros Latsis, after it emerged today that Barroso and his wife enjoyed a lavish free holiday last summer on Latsis's private yacht.

The details emerged after a leak from the commission when Barroso refused to answer a written question put to him in the name of UKIP MEP Nigel Farage, asking for details of any hospitality he and other commissioners had accepted.

Barroso replied that: "The Commission considers that insofar as it falls outside the exercise of official duties, the receipt of hospitality is a normal fact of private life, and therefore falls in principle under the respect for privacy of each individual Commissioner and of those who host them".

However, it now emerges that Latsis, whose personal fortune is estimated at over $2.8 billion, has companies heavily involved in the construction and funding of the controversial Spata Airport complex, featured in the Booker column in March 2004, after millions in EU funding were unaccounted for.

The huge project, largely funded by EU grants and loans, opened four years ago at an alleged cost of €2.3 billion (£1.6 billion), which made it the third most expensive airport ever built. The project was undertaken by Hochtief, a German company which specialises in airport construction.

Although Hochtief only contributed €133 million to the project, it owns a 45 per cent share in the finished airport, and has a contract to run it through a subsidiary for 30 years, with the right to appoint its chief executive and five out of nine members of the board.

Of the claimed €2.3 billion cost, €250 million was contributed by EU taxpayers from the Cohesion Fund and €997 million was lent by the EU's European Investment Bank, backed by a Greek government guarantee. Much of the rest came from Greek taxpayers.

Further details can be seen from the link provided but it also emerges that Latsis-owned companies have considerable financial interests in the Spata Airport venture. Not least, his bank, EFG Eurobank is a "strategic partner" with the German Hochtief company, the prime contractor for the airport.

There have been many requests to Prodi's commission to investigate the dealings of Hochtief and the financial dealings relating to the airport constuction and management, but all of which have hit a stone wall of silence. Furthermore, the new Borroso commission has shown no inclination to follow up on what is clearly a major financial scandal, involving billions in EU funds.

The latest update on the Spata story can be seen on the New Europe site, which charges the commission with never responding to any of the accusations and never daring to refer to the prosecutor the editors of New Europe for reports about the project, "thus admitting, indirectly yet clearly, its guilt."

Yet, Barroso denies any wrongdoing over the cruise he accepted with his wife, his spokeswoman saying today stressing it was a private holiday and nothing to do with his job. Spiros Latsis is an old friend with whom Barroso went to university in Geneva 20 years ago and they have remained in touch since.

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Separately, the German newspaper Die Welt reports that Peter Mandelson, the British commissioner and EU's trade commissioner, has admitted he had accepted an invitation to a private trip to Jamaica - another little detail to emerge from the Farage initiative.

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