EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has written a letter to former Vice-President Neelie Kroes asking for facts, details and clarifications over the Bahama leaks that showed her having interests in Mint Holdings offshore, which she has “failed to declare” over a five-year period.
The Commission is investigating Mint Holdings possible connection to any other firms that Kroes has taken decisions while being a EU Commissioner for Competition and Digital Agenda. The EU’s former anti-trust chief, who is currently a member of Uber’s Public Policy Advisory Board, needs to clarify to the European Commission the details of her failed offshore declaration. The worst-case scenario is her receiving potential sanctions that could mean that Kroes would not be eligible to receive a pension as a former EU Commissioner. However, the Commission’s chief spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas, clarified that the 75-year old ex Vice-president is not receiving any pension from the Commission at the moment, since she is still working.
According to the recent leak that hit the news on Wednesday, Kroes was the Director of the Bahamian company from 2000 to 2009. EU rules require commissioners to declare their economic interests over the previous decade, including governing and advisory positions in any company.
The only sanction that could be taken against former commissioners is stripping them of their pension and other allowances. But, this would have to be ordered by the European Court of Justice if the EU Commission and Council insist.
Oscar Hammerstein, from Kroes’ legal representative side, blamed the failure to declare her directorship to a “clerical oversight which was not corrected until 2009,” insisting the former Commissioner made every statement about her past in good faith. She believed Mint Holdings had been liquidated in 2002.
The company was set up in 2000 for a Jordanian businessman Amin Badr-El-Din, a weapons salesman to the United Arab Emirates linked to weapons manufacturing giant Lockheed Martin Corp. El Din and Kroes’ friendship could date back to when she worked as a lobbyist for Lockheed before becoming an EU Commissioner.
EU Commission fails over “Ethics and Politics”
EU Commission’s spokesperson Margaritis Schinas rejected calls to reform the EU Commissioners’ Code of Conduct, describing it as the strictest in the EU, and on a global level. China has suggested that both ex-Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s Goldman Sachs case and Kroes’ offshore case could not be foreseen.
The EU Commission’s chief spokesperson did concede that it is still necessary to clarify if “ethical issues” concerning independence and dignity were breached, as the Code of Conduct writes:
“Outside activities during the term of office: Commissioners may not engage in any other professional activity, whether gainful or not. Unpaid courses given from time to time in the interests of European integration and other communication activities on areas of European interest are the only outside activities that are permitted, and do not have to be declared.”
Juncker’s letter will not be published
Alexander Winterstein, Deputy Spokesperson of the Berlaymont, suggests that Juncker’s Commission is transparent, but will not publish the letter the President has sent to Kroes. The President will assess if it is needed to remind to the College of Commissioners that they are legally bound to declare all of their assets, but this will not be public.
Kroes still receives EU Commission’s “transition allowance.”
According to the rules on the allowances of EU Commissioners, which are a full responsibility of the Council, Kroes receives for a period of three years after leaving office a “transitional allowance” that is calculated at just under €460,000. This amount generally depends on her present income in the private sector. The amount is calculated according to the years the official had spent in office, with Kroes spending 9 years and 11 months in the Berlaymont, which means that she can claim 55% of her last salary as an EU Commissioner. In general, depending on the length of service, commissioners are allowed to claim from 40% up to 65% of their final basic salary after leaving Brussels.
An EU official confirmed that Kroes’ lawyer had sent an email to President Juncker on the Bahamas Papers offshore case since last Friday, but the EU Commission claims that it was read on Wednesday afternoon, after the case hit the press. However, it has been confirmed that journalists have been asking for the Commission’s reaction since the beginning of this week.
Amin Khaled Badr El-Din son’s alleged internship
One individual named as another Mint Holdings Directors is a Jordanian national named Amin Khaled Badr El-Din, who seems to be connected with Lockheed Martin where Kroes was once a lobbyist. Badr El-Din’s son claims to have been a stagier during Kroes’ term at the Commission, according to Belgian daily Le Soir. The EU official, however, denied his presence to any type of employment record. “We know our people,” the EU official concluded. Another EU source told New Europe that there are other, unpaid internships (stage atypique), where records are not necessarily kept. Yet, the Commission has already talked with former members of Kroes’s cabinets and cannot seem to find his presence anywhere.
ALDE’s “clean hands” over Kroes’ offshore
An Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Parliamentary official, suggested that the party “does not have all the facts about this but it’s clearly a case between the EU Commission and Ms. Kroes.” Since Kroes has retired from politics, her past political party refused to comment to New Europe on the issue, in terms of party’s ethics and role conflict. In addition, ALDE does not seem willing to ask Kroes for clarifications, regarding her past Commission positions and her activities.