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EU Watchdog Seeks Probe Powers, Funds  01/30 06:10

   

   BRUSSELS (AP) -- A European Parliament body supervising anti-lobbying and 
lawmakers' conduct rules must be given the power and money to launch 
independent investigations into abuses in the wake of a major corruption 
scandal, the European Ombudsman's office warned Monday.

   European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly, an independent watchdog monitoring 
administrative shortfalls in the European Union on behalf of the bloc's 27 
member countries, said that "diligent and independent oversight and enforcement 
of existing ethics rules is critical."

   After a series of raids across Brussels in December, Belgian prosecutors 
charged four people with corruption, money laundering and membership in a 
criminal organisation for allegedly taking money from Qatari and Moroccan 
officials to influence decision-making at the European Union's parliament.

   They include an EU lawmaker, who was an assembly vice president until the 
charges came to light, a parliamentary assistant, a former lawmaker and the 
head of a charity group. Prosecutors want the parliamentary immunity of two 
other lawmakers lifted, suggesting that they too might be charged.

   Early this month, Parliament President Roberta Metsola unveiled plans to 
toughen controls on all lobbyists and publicly list any meetings that lawmakers 
might have with them. Under the plans, spot checks would be introduced on 
lawmakers' financial disclosures and links to any country outside the 27-nation 
EU.

   The new rules would also prevent former lawmakers from lobbying on behalf of 
businesses or governments soon after they leave office and would make publicly 
available the names of current members who break assembly rules.

   But critics say the plan lacks the teeth needed to change the lax behaviour 
of parliamentarians who routinely ignore their code of conduct. The alleged 
abuses were also carried out over several months and only picked up by 
Belgium's intelligence services.

   Currently, the code of conduct is overseen by a five-member Advisory 
Committee working under Metsola's orders.

   In a letter to Metsola, O'Reilly said that addressing shortfalls "implies 
strengthening the independence of the Committee, granting it powers proactively 
to monitor, investigate and ensure compliance with ethics rules, and providing 
it with sufficient resources."

   To help restore public confidence shaken by the EU's biggest corruption 
scandal, O'Reilly said, "greater transparency" about the committee's work is 
also needed. She added that more detailed declarations of outside interests by 
lawmakers are needed.

   Qatar and Morocco vehemently deny any involvement in the corruption scandal, 
but the assembly has halted work on all Qatar-related files until an inquiry is 
completed.

 
 
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