As EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht is facing charges for fiscal fraud in Belgium, the European Commission defended on Friday the Commissioner’s ‘presumption of innocence’.
According to the Belgian press, the country’s tax authorities have reportedly asked the Commissioner’s family to pay almost 1 million euros in unpaid taxes.
But the EU executive said that De Gucht has already told President Jose Manuel Barroso that he did nothing wrong in the case.
‘We cannot prejudge the outcome and the presumption of innocence must be respected. This inquiry concerns issues that are unrelated to the functions of a commissioner, so unrelated to the functions of Commissioner De Gucht’s portfolio and the tasks that are being performed by him.’
‘Commissioner De Gucht has spoken to the president on the most recent developments and guaranteed to the president that there was no wrongdoing in the case’, said EU spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen.
The tax fraud scandal comes just days before De Gucht is due to start negotiations with the US for a far-reaching free trade deal.
De Gucht’s case has been compared with former Maltese Health Commissioner John Dalli, who resigned earlier this year after an anti-fraud investigation linked him to attempts to influence EU tobacco legislation.
The Commission warned that there are no similarities between both cases, as the accusations against De Gucht are unrelated to his work as commissioner.
Karel De Gucht has been the EU Commissioner for Trade since 2010. He also served as Belgium’s Minister of Foreign Affairs between 2004 and 2009.