Ex-MEP to serve prison in 'cash-for-laws' scandal

  

Former Slovenian MEP Zoran Thaler was sentenced last week to two and a half years in prison by a Ljubljana court following his involvement in the “cash-for-amendments” scandal from 2011, a journalistic spoof aimed at “testing MEPs’ ethics”.

Zoran Thaler, who is also a former foreign affairs minister of Slovenia, reached a plea bargain last month with the prosecution in his country in a corruption case which forced him to step down from his job as MEP in 2011.

Thaler will pay €15,000 that will be donated to Ljubljana’s children's hospital and is sentenced to a two and half years prison term, which he will serve during the weekends.

The “cash-for-laws” scandal broke three years ago when Sunday Times journalists posing as lobbyists secretly filmed four MEPs negotiating a deal to table amendments in the EU Parliament in exchange for money.

Since then, only two of the incriminated lawmakers has stepped down, Austria’s Ernst Stasser and Thaler. Stasser was also sentenced to prison, while the two others, Romania’s Adrian Severin and Spanish MEP Pablo Zalba Bidegain, have kept their seats in the Parliament.

Commenting on the sentence, Zoran Thaler told Slovenian media that he had been “pushed into Murdoch’s reality TV show involuntarily and now I am exiting it voluntarily”.

The former minister was cleared of corruption suspicions by the European Commission’s Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) in 2012.

“[OLAF] found no evidence to support suspicion of wrongdoing of former MEP Zoran Thaler, following his exposure by the Sunday Times in March 2011 in the cash-for-laws scandal … but the European Parliament "refused to provide the necessary support during the investigation".

The conclusions of the case, which OLAF closed on 22 December, “are thus based on limited information”, the office said.

In the case of MEP Pablo Zalba Bidegain, OLAF has sent a letter dated 19 May 2011, saying that "based on the findings of the investigation, the OLAF Director General has closed the case". 

Controversial methods?

The Sunday Times belongs to controversial media mogul Ruport Murdoch’s corporation, NewsCorp, and has unveiled other similar bribery scandals in the UK.

However, the cash for amendments story was not met with unanimous acclaim in the journalistic community. The veteran French Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer harshly criticised the Sunday Times’ method in his influential blog, “Les Coulisses de Bruxelles”.

On 25 March 2011, Quatremer wrote: “In order to set up those parliamentarians (or anyone else), these 'journalists' did not hesitate to violate the law.

“Journalists are not policemen,” he wrote, “and in this case they are guilty of corruption or attempt of corruption … I don’t like these methods where journalists play the role of the policeman and the judge without respecting the rights of the defence.”

“Provoking information is not information, it’s manipulation,” Quatremer concluded. He did not seek to justify the MEPs’ conduct in the cash for influence scandal.

The secretary general of the European Federation of Journalists, Ricardo Gutiérrez, told EurActiv that the "basic deontological principle is for journalists to not conceal their identity, although there are exceptions".

“Undercover journalism is tolerated if a real social issue is at stake (human rights violations, etc.), if the risks for the journalist are reasonable and if the method is approved by the editor-in-chief.

"This does however not justify causing offence. And being a briber is an offence. [Like] Jean Quatremer, I would tend to condemn such practice. If the journalist becomes an offender, how will we make ourselves respected?” Gutiérrez said.

Positions: 

Slovenian MEP (Socialists and Democrats) Tanja Fajon told reporters that the cash-for-laws scandal had "brought something good, the transparent register of lobbyists".

"Citizens can with a single click now who is a lobbyist, who does what, who influences the adoption of legislation," adding that lobbyists is not by definition a negative profession: "Companies send their lobbyists whp present their views to the MEP, but in the end it's the MEP who decides what he will take into account."

Timeline: 
  • 14-17 April 2014: Last plenary session of the European Parliament, and provisional deadline to approve the set of improvements to the lobby register
  • End 2016: Target date for the European Commission to put forward a proposal to make the lobby register mandatory
External links: 
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Comments

Iwantout's picture

Journalists are not police officers but I must be missing something here. Four supposedly honest and upright members of the EP are approached and offered money to frame laws to the benefit of a company and for direct personal gain for themselves. They take the money and are exposed. They did of course always have the option of rejecting such bribery out of hand, throwing the journalists out of their offices and reporting the approach to the appropriate authorities.

The Parliament according to OLAF then fails to support the investigation and the general view seems to be that the journalists that have exposed this appalling preparedness to accept bribes are to be roundly condemned. I would have thought any right thinking individual would be asking why the Parliament did not do its best to assist the enquiries of OLAF and thank the journalists for uncovering such rank criminality at the heart of the Parliament.

To make matters worse we are told two of those exposed remain as MEPs and are presumably free to continue to operate in this manner.

Zoran Thaler is deluding himself and others with the claim that he had been “pushed into Murdoch’s reality TV show involuntarily and now I am exiting it voluntarily”. The truth is he entered it entirely voluntarily when he reached out and took the cash.

George Mc's picture

The question is, how many more of them should be joining him?

Otto's picture

QUOTE
They managed to secretly film Ivan Slavkov, president of the Bulgarian Olympic Committee, who indicated he was willing to vote in favour of London's bid
UNQUOTE

Looks like some MEPs already have the experience of selling their votes to London. It's for sure not the first time.

George Mc's picture

QUOTE
They managed to secretly film Ivan Slavkov, president of the Bulgarian Olympic Committee, who indicated he was willing to vote in favour of London's bid
UNQUOTE

Proof or links please.

"Looks like some MEPs already have the experience of selling their votes to London. It's for sure not the first time."

Proof or links please, not just because Otto says so.

Otto's picture

George Mc

The first part is a quote from the article, the second part - a logical conclusion based on the information from it.

George Mc's picture

Okay, as I suspected, you are making claims which you are not prepared (or can't) substantiate.
Based upon that you seem to think that it is logical to take it to Otto's next stage.

Goodman, well done, congratulations, I am in awe!

Otto's picture

George Mc

I can elucidate it for you.
1. You can't just give money to a parliamentarian without a certain amount of mutual trust. Bribery on such high level is only possible if the bribe-taker and the briber are already connected (personally or through a trusted third party).
2. Obviously, the journalists have found such connection and exploited it for the spoof. This means such connection exists, and it's between the MEP and someone from London.
3. Almost all bribe-takers did it many times. You can't just stop taking bribes after the first one.
4. Conclusion: It's for sure not the first time for the MEP

I can tell you a lot about bribes. My brother has a business in Scotland, and, according to him, in Scotland you simply can't have a business of the certain size without bribes.

George Mc's picture

Otto

I wanted to check the story for myself as many things stated on here are nonsense. But you seem a bit slow today.

Bribery and corruption have happened since Christ left Dumbarton and will continue until the next resurrection.

Yes, it is wrong and it should be punished with confiscation of assets and jail.

As I said in another post on this site, when it comes to corruption, it is my opinion that Brussels and the EP with its MEPs would not stand up well to examination. I think that there have been rumblings in the past about their lack of integrity.

The UK parliament would probably look like a kindergarten in comparison.

I wonder how the potential President of the new Commission will come out of this one?

Otto's picture

George Mc

I think it was you (or was it Barry?) who said the EU parliament is absolutely powerless.
Why in the world should anyone bribe a powerless politician?

The UK parliament has more real power anyway, so one can expect more and bigger brides there.

According to polls, Britons trust the EU parliament more than the British parliament, it's a clear sign which parliament is more corrupt.
I think I already gave you the prooflink on this fact, but, if you wish, i can do it one more time.

George Mc's picture

Otto I do not recall making such a statement and I am not going to blame Barry by default. Accusations need to be backed up - over to you. You also need to answer your own question, although I do believe that Lisbon has given the EP more powers to share with the Council.

"According to polls, Britons trust the EU parliament more than the British parliament, it's a clear sign which parliament is more corrupt."

Here we go again statements with no back up or links.
Who conduce the polls, when were they conducted Unless you do better and supply the info there is no point in you debating with me.

You still have not supplied the link that I asked for.

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