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Last Updated: Friday, 26 October 2007, 22:07 GMT 23:07 UK
Gambling arrest 'abused EU rules'
By Dominic Laurie
Europe Business reporter, BBC News

Unibet team rider Gorik Gardeyn
Unibet sponsors a cycling team

Two Members of the European Parliament have said the French government abused EU rules when they arrested the boss of a Swedish gambling site earlier this week.

Petter Nylander, the chief executive of Unibet, was stopped by police at Amsterdam airport in the Netherlands on Monday while trying to board a flight to the UK.

He was then taken by the police and put into a cell. On Wednesday he was transferred to a hotel.

Mr Nylander was held under a European arrest warrant issued by a judge in France, where he will be moved to on 31 October.

He was acting on a complaint by the two French horseracing and lottery betting monopolies.

Pressure

Last year, the monopolies began proceedings against Unibet, claiming it had no right to do business in France and was operating illegally.

However, UK MEP Christopher Heaton-Harris and his Swedish colleague MEP Christofer Fjellner say Mr Nylander is innocent.

"We find it astonishing the French authorities are using the European Arrest Warrant to protect their own business markets," the MEPs wrote in an open letter to the European Internal Markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy.

"(We) believe their actions are violating one of the four fundamental freedoms of the internal market, the freedom to provide services.

"We strongly urge the European Commission to continue putting pressure on the French authorities to secure the immediate release of Mr Nylander."

In their letter, the MEPs questioned the use of the European arrest warrant by the French judge.

"It was supposed to serve as a tool to bring to justice people involved in crimes such as terrorism, murder and human trafficking.

"This instrument was never meant to be used by governments to punish those who fight for their rights under the rules of the EU treaty to provide goods and services."

Those same French laws under which Mr Nylander was arrested are currently being challenged by the Commissioner. Mr McCreevy is meeting French representatives on 6 November to discuss withdrawal of those laws.

Procedural law

Regarding this process, Mr McCreevy's spokesman Oliver Drewes said: "We are in good contact with the French authorities in view of solving this matter. We are confident we can solve this situation and bring this in line with principles of non-discrimination and proportionality."

Earlier this week, Mr Drewes said French betting legislation breached EU laws and should be changed.

But on Friday he stated that it was not in the Commission's remit to put pressure on French authorities to secure Mr Nylander's release.

"It is not the Commission's or any government's position to dictate to judges what they have to do. This has to be sorted out under procedural law of the respective member state. That seems to be being done at the moment and we should refrain from any reaction or comment on that as it is."

Mr Nylander says he is innocent of any crime and that there is nothing illegal about his business.

Unibet's CFO and acting CEO Ragnar Hellenius said: "We take for granted that when Petter is finally on French soil on Wednesday, the judge will release him.

"For us, Petter's release is most important and we are working with the authorities to facilitate this process."



SEE ALSO
Betting boss detained by police
23 Oct 07 |  Business
Unibet blasts cycling 'scandal'
17 Jun 07 |  Business

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