The European Commission this week denied claims that corruption and fraud had led to more than £500m of public money being wasted on a programme to improve nuclear safety in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
The claims arose from a 38-page report by the European Court of Auditors, which detailed mismanagement, inefficiency and delay in the administration of the ECU850m (£581m) programme between 1991 and 1998. Giles Chichester, the Conservative MEP for Devon and East Plymouth, said: ‘A lot of money has clearly ended up in the wrong hands.’
A spokesman for the Commission’s DG1A directorate, which handles relations with central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, admitted to ‘slowness in the process’ but insisted there had been no irregularity or fraud. An aide to Bernhard Friedman, president of the Court of Auditors when the report was produced, said: ‘There were irregularities, but you cannot talk about fraud.’
The report concludes: ‘The Commission’s excessive transfer of responsibilities to third parties resulted in prevarication and delays that undermined the value of EU action.’ It also criticises subcontracting of work to local firms ‘as there is a risk that western contractors will obtain profits in excess of the commercial margins normally applicable to their sector’.