Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Beyond comprehension

The Times and The Telegraph have picked up the story we ran yesterday on the free hospitality enjoyed by Barroso and Mandelson.

Typical of the parochialism of the British press, both papers choose to focus on Mandelson, The Telegraph producing a pathetic effort that barely mentions the EU commission president. The Times is almost as bad, not not quite. It proclaims that Mandelson "faces sleaze claim over free Caribbean holiday", dealing with the details of Barroso in the text of the story.

According to The Times, Mandelson was "at the centre of a new row over sleaze last night after it emerged that he attached a free Caribbean holiday to an official trip just months after his political comeback as a European commissioner."

We learn that he was forced to make a statement after details of his holiday were leaked, apparently by disgruntled European Commission officials, days after Brussels declared that no commissioner had accepted any improper hospitality.

Then we come to Barroso with the statement that: "also leaked were details of a free holiday enjoyed by José Manuel Barroso, who spent a week with his wife on the private yacht of the Greek banking, aviation and shipping billionaire Spiro (sic) Latsis last year."

After much more detail on Mandelson, Barroso is said to have given full details of his trip in August, and the reference to Latsis’s business interests is that his "shipping business is affected by EU maritime safety and environmental regulations, and one of his banks is involved in the Balkans, where the EU is the main contributor in reconstruction."

There is, as we have hinted in our earlier piece, much, much more than this, but the full details will have to wait until we have sufficiently unravelled the highly complex affairs of the Latsis empire. Suffice it to say that Spiros Latsis ranks 79th richest man in the world, according to Forbes, with a personal fortune of US$4.6 billion (although some estimate it is nearer $12 billion).

His interests include petroleum, banking, construction, shipping, and he moves easily within the circle of heads of state and governments of the world, and hasw met Mr Putin several times. In any of his business areas he would have a keen interest in the views of the commission – not least in the "liberalisation" of energy supplies – and would have benefited hugely from the opportunity to lobby the commission president.

How Barroso can possibly maintain that, by accepting free hospitality on board Latsis's luxury yacht Alexander - which, at over 400 ft in length, rates as the worlds third largest – does not present a possible conflict of interest, is beyond comprehension.

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