Sunday, August 26, 2007

The shady past (and present?) of Mr Barroso

Something which seems to have been doing the rounds in the Portuguese press – but so far has not hit the international arena – is a story of how EU commission president José Manuel Barroso is being pressured to respond publicly to allegations that Portugal’s social democratic party received illegal electoral payments in 2002 when he was head of the party.

According to Portuguese press reports, Lisbon's constitutional tribunal has examined documents that suggest that more than €233,000 was funnelled to the PSD through the construction company, Somague, in breach of the country's electoral rules.

This is the same Mr Barroso who has remarkably close connections with billionaire Spiros Latsis. And it is entirely a coincidence that both Somague and some of Mr Latsis's many companies are doing lucrative business in Bulgaria, funded from generous EU grants.

Anyhow, although the current little embarrassment is very much a Portuguese affair, Belgian MEP Bart Staes is trying to highlight the EU angle. He cites Article 213 of the Treaty of the European Communities – as one does - which obliges commissioners to act with "integrity" and to remain independent. "Would Barroso have been nominated as commission president if these allegations were known in 2004?" Staes asks. "Would the European parliament have accepted his candidature?"

Unsurprisingly, the EU commission is refusing to comment on the allegations, arguing that the issue is a Portuguese and not an EU matter. But Staes, who is nothing if not tenacious, wants Barroso to explain himself to the EU parliament. "If it's proven that money was given to the PSD and Barroso was aware of it then it's not purely a Portuguese question," says Staes.

Staes has also tabled a written question to the commission asking whether any EU contracts have been awarded to Somague, and has called for the EU's anti-fraud office (OLAF) to become involved. He might as well not bother with OLAF, even if the ritual reference must be made.

If I were Staes, I would stay with the Bulgarian connection, and look for more links between Barroso and Sacyr Vallehermoso, the Spanish owner of the Somague Group. And, if he lifts enough stones, I am sure he will find the Latsis ERG Eurobank leering back at him.

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