quarta-feira, 14 de dezembro de 2016

European Parliament suspends UKIP group’s funding over kickbacks claim

European Parliament suspends UKIP group’s funding over kickbacks claim
Finance chiefs claim think tank awarded contracts to donors

Former leader UKIP Nigel Farage has described such moves against his then-party and its affiliates as "victimization" of Euroskeptic parties

By NICHOLAS VINOCUR AND MAÏA DE LA BAUME 12/13/16, 7:25 PM CET Updated 12/14/16, 5:36 AM CET

STRASBOURG — The European Parliament suspended payment of some €90,000 to a think tank linked to Nigel Farage’s UKIP because of suspicions that it obtained donations via improper means, according to a document obtained by POLITICO.

In the latest of a series of financial setbacks to hit Euroskeptic parties and associated bodies over allegations of misuse of public funds, the UKIP-linked Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe (IDDE) could be deprived of €88,924.58 in funding due to the suspension approved by Parliament’s leaders.

Last month, the Parliament sought to recover €173,000 in funding from the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe (ADDE) group of MEPs, of which UKIP is the dominant member, and suspended payment of €501,000 in grants. The Parliament has also sought to recover €339,000 from Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front.

Several other MEPs, including Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie, three others in the National Front and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, have also faced requests to reimburse money to parliament. Le Pen’s lawyer said she would appeal the reimbursement order, and that he expected parliament to move to recover funds by docking her pay and expenses, as it did in the case of her father.

This clawback of European Parliament cash by President Martin Schulz and Manfred Weber, leader of the center-right European People’s Party, is the first crackdown against populist groups that use Parliament money to fund Euroskeptic causes.

A senior parliamentary source said top MEPs meeting in Strasbourg this week had decided to suspend grants to the Institute and cut off funds for the Organization for European Interstate Cooperation (OEIC), another Euroskeptic body. It was not immediately possible to verify the claim against the OEIC nor to determine how much money was involved.

A representative for ADDE said Parliament’s accusation was baseless, while Farage has described such moves against UKIP and its affiliates as “victimization” of Euroskeptic parties.

In the case of IDDE, which describes itself as a think tank, the Parliament is concerned about how it obtained private donations. In order to qualify for grants from the Parliament, groups and foundations must prove they are able to raise a minimum amount of funding from private sources.

Checks by the Parliament’s finance chiefs on IDDE funding “revealed serious concerns about the qualification of the donations as ‘own resources’ — a criterion that needs to be fulfilled in order to receive funding by the European Parliament,” read the document signed by the Parliament’s top staffer, Secretary General Klaus Welle.

“It is also doubtful the related expenses paid to the donors or to companies with close links to the donors can be considered eligible expenditure,” said the document, which was dated December 5 and titled “Note to the members of the bureau.”

The finance department suspects the Institute accepted donations from firms and individuals, only to pay the money back using cash from the Parliament by awarding them contracts that far exceeded the amount they had donated.

In one such example, the document alleged that Kristina Pentti, executive director of the Libera Foundation in Helsinki, had donated €12,000 to IDDE. In 2015, Libera received three payments worth a total of €20,000 from IDDE in order to carry out unspecified work.

The Euroskeptic parties targeted argue that they are being persecuted for practices that are no different from those of more mainstream groups.
Another example mentioned in the document involves a firm called Jalte Holding, which donated €10,000 to IDDE while its director Jorg Altenburg gave €5,000. A web design firm, whose director is Sander van den Broek, donated €5,000. IDDE later awarded a €30,000 contract to a firm called Quid Novi whose director, Eline van den Broek-Altenburg, is listed on Facebook as being the sister of Sander van den Broek and the wife of Jorg Altenburg.

The document said the Parliament was considering bringing the case to the attention of OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog. It was only suspending payments and not seeking to recover more than €580,000 already paid to the foundation in recent years because of the “risk that it might be impossible to recover the paid amounts due.”

The Euroskeptic parties targeted argue that they are being persecuted for practices that are no different from those of more mainstream groups.

Mischaël Modrikamen, vice president of ADDE, said he was not aware of all the details of the probe into the UKIP-related Institute, but added that both the his parliamentary group and the Institute itself planned to appeal Parliament’s decisions. There was “no deal” between the Institute and donors to set up a system of kickbacks, and all contracts awarded were approved by Parliament’s compliance office, he said.

“There is a desire to liquidate them [Euroskeptic groups], to make them pay for Brexit,” Modrikamen said. “But I have never seen such disdain and violation of the rules and total absence of any normal process.”


Nicholas Vinocur and Maïa de La Baume  

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