Cash for Amendments – One year after

 The lifespan of a scandal is usually short and it fades into distant memories with the appearance of a new scandal.

More than a year ago (20/3/2011), British newspaper The Sunday Times published an article on “Cash for Amendments”, which accused several MEPs of taking money in return for initiating amendments in the European Parliament.

Among the MEPs mentioned in the article was the vice-president of the S&D and former deputy Prime Minister of Romania, Mr. Adrian Severin.

The two journalists from The Sunday Times, belonging to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, used a non-existent company called ”Taylor Jones” in their application for a lobby entry pass. With false identities they fixed appointments with several MEPs, among them Mr. Severin, to whom – according to the article – they suggested cash in return for amendments profitable for their company.

The article claimed that Mr. Severin agreed to the deal, and after finalizing the process he drew up an invoice for his service.

The publication of the article caused a political tsunami in the European Parliament. Without any chance for explaining or pleading Mr. Severin was found guilty by public opinion (in our institution too).  After rejecting calls to resign as a member he was striped off his positions within the Parliament and in a rather humiliating way was urged to leave the political group. Until today Mr. Severin seats with the non-attached MEPs.

We live in a democracy where everybody has right to fair trial and is not guilty until proven otherwise. Media evidences are not enough. 

Last year I was among a minority of MEPs who demanded Mr. Severin receives a fair trial before lynching his character. I felt that we should demonstrate solidarity Mr. Severin’s guilt has been proven by a competent and independent institution of justice.

My requests remain unanswered.

Over one year has passed and Mr. Severin is still surrounded by „cordon sanitaire”. Colleagues who used to strive for his support – now do not recognize him on the corridors. His office, closed immediately after the break of the story, has been sealed inside with his documents and private belongings.

Meanwhile, Murdoch’s media group has been subjected to public investigation in theUKafter revealing illegal and unethical practices used by its correspondents. Such include: wire-tapping, e-mail hacking, bribes, blackmails etc.

In this context I wonder why the Parliament didn’t file a complaint against the journalists from The Sunday Times who broke the law when registering themselves as lobbyists using false identity.

Where are we today fourteen months later?

In the Parliament, MEP’s adopted a new Code of Conduct, which specifies existing rules. Furthermore the Parliament created a public registry for lobbyists.

In the case of Mr. Severin accusations against him almost faded. The contract signed with “Taylor Jones” was based on membership in an international advisory board, making a clear exclusion of consulting services for a beneficiary. To prevent possible conflict of interests, Mr. Severin asked the Parliament’s legal service for opinion before signing the contract. He was told that advisory services were legal and had to be included in MEPs declarations of financial interests.

As for the amendments, while their content was not controversial, they were never submitted by Mr. Severin, who wasn’t even a Member of the respective Committee.

Over a year later the Romanian authorities didn’t reach any conclusions on the case of Mr. Severin.

Even though this case didn’t involve resources from EU’s budget, European Anti-Freud Office (OLAF) also conducted an inquiry which was closed ten months later.

Maybe in this case no news are good news, especially for Mr Severin, whose “guilt” was obvious to everybody last year.

Certainly the European Parliament should fight against corruption and stand for zero-tolerance policy on this issue. Nevertheless, this is not equal to destroying a Member’s reputation, who could turn out to be a victim of untrue accusations.

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

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