Spanish MEP trapped by attractive fake lobbyist

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A Spanish MEP who was caught passing amendments as a favour to a female lobbyist said he did so because she was "very attractive". The Spaniard was caught out by the same team of Sunday Times journalists who had already exposed three of his colleagues for passing amendments to EU legislation in return for payment promises.

Pablo Zalba Bidegain, a 37-year old MEP from the centre-right European People's Party, is apparently the fourth victim of a sting by British newspaper the Sunday Times aimed at exposing lobbying practices in the European Parliament (see 'Background').

More revelations expected

More such revelations are expected, as reportedly 14 more MEPs took the bait. In a series of interviews with the Spanish press, Pablo Zalba insisted that his conscience is clear. Although the legal amendment he helped to push through was initiated by people who turned out to be fake lobbyists, he insisted that this particular piece of legislation, which dealt with compensation for investors in case of fraud, was a good one.

"I voted the way I voted because I thought I was making the law better. Some people want to make a story out of nothing […] I accepted no money or favours," Zalba claims.

However, the Spanish MEP, who is a former businessman, concedes that the female reporter who pretended to be a lobbyist was very attractive.

Zalba explained that the fake lobbyists had offered him the chance to become a member of the board of their pressure group, which he refused. He said he was also offered money for the amendment, which he also refused, because in his words he was already being paid by the European Parliament.

Zalba also lamented the ethical journalism standards of the Sunday Times.

According to Spanish daily El Mundo, Zalba is the only Spanish MEP to have been caught out by the Sunday Times. The reason for this, according to sources cited, was not the integrity of Spanish MEPs, but the fact that it was difficult to come across many whose proficiency in the English language was sufficient to engage in a lobbying exercise.

During the course of an eight-month investigation, journalists from the Sunday Times posing as lobbyists contacted some 60 MEPs to test their ethics.

The reporters wanted to verify allegations that some politicians were prepared "to sell their services" to push through specific amendments to EU legislation in exchange for remuneration, the broadsheet revealed on Sunday 20 March.

Following the revelations, two MEPs resigned (Austria's Ernst Strasser; European People's Party) and Zoran Thaler of Slovenia (Socialists & Democrats). MEP Adrian Severin (S&D), who is a former deputy prime minister of Romania, was expelled from his political group but vowed to stay on as an MEP in order to clear his name.

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