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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 25 March, 2003, 14:36 GMT
Cresson charged with corruption
Edith Cresson
Cresson is facing parallel inquiries
French politician Edith Cresson has become the first former European Commissioner to be charged with corruption during her time in office.

A Belgian investigating magistrate has charged Ms Cresson, a former French Prime Minister, with counterfeiting and personally benefiting from EU contracts, say judicial officials.

The charges follow an inquiry into allegations made by Belgian Euro-MP Nelly Maes in 1999, which accused Ms Cresson of operating a fraudulent training scheme.

Ms Cresson, who was education commissioner from 1995-1999, has faced accusations over the hiring of her dentist Rene Berthelot, who was allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of francs in fictitious salaries as a scientific consultant.

She was also alleged to have produced forged documents to hide the fact that he had not been genuinely employed.

A Commission spokesman confirmed to the BBC that it was the first time a serving or former commissioner had faced charges in Belgium, where the Commission is based.

A spokesman for the Brussels prosecutors' office said Ms Cresson had been sent a letter last week by registered post, informing her of the charges.

Several members of her staff had also been charged with corruption, he added.

Separate inquiry

News of the charges comes two months after the European Commission said it was seeking explanations from Ms Cresson over fraud allegations, which led to the mass resignation of the commission in 1999.

That inquiry is running parallel to the Belgian judicial inquiry, which has been carried out by magistrate Jean-Claude Van Espen.

Under EU rules, the Commission can itself take legal action against a commission accused of breaking the rules.

A Commission case would be heard in the European Court of Justice, not in the Belgian courts.

The BBC's Oana Lungescu in Brussels says neither the European Commission nor the Belgian justice system is famed for its speed, and these parallel investigations could take many more months.

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