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EU Investigates Former Ambassador To Moscow

Brussels, Feb. 22 (RFE/RL) - The European Union's former ambassador to Moscow, Michael Emerson, is under investigation for corruption. He stands accused, and has admitted that, while in Moscow, he was setting up a private company to do business with Russian business leaders.

A RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reports the EU's ambassador post in Moscow is viewed as second only to the EU's posting to Washington. And the correspondent reports that, since returning to Brussels, Emerson has been posted to one of the most politically important departments in the EU's governing European Commission. This department is responsible for devising a strategy for helping Eastern countries embrace Western values and attain free-market economies.

The EU is questioning Emerson about his management of funds destined to further democracy in Russia.

Emerson denies allegations of corruption or conflict of interest, saying "no money changed hands," during the time he was setting up the private company in Moscow. And he says he was simply setting up the company "in preparation" for retiring from his EU post.

EU officials are prohibited from conducting independent financial activities, which could compromise their EU work.

From 1991 until last month, one of Emerson's primary responsibilities in Moscow was overseeing an EU aid program for former Soviet republics. Since 1991, the EU has spent almost $ 1 billion dollars in technical assistance on Russia and other former Soviet republics, and a similar amount has been pledged for pro-democracy programs planned in the next five years for Russia.

The EU's anti-fraud unit is conducting what it calls an "internal inquiry." And Belgian police have asked the immunity granted EU staff be lifted, so that they can undertake a parallel inquiry.

Emerson has submitted his resignation to the European Commission, but reports say it is unlikely to be accepted, while the inquiry is underway.

Reports cite EU officials as saying the inquiry focuses on whether Emerson used his Moscow position to set up his own private business, and did he use inside knowledge of EU aid programs to channel contracts to people with whom he was engaged in private business.

And then, there are other sensational accusations on which the media have focused. There are reports that Emerson might have been influenced by an alleged affair with a Russian woman, married to an American, who had worked for the EU in Brussels and Moscow.

The woman's husband has given investigators messages he says he found on his home computer. The messages, which he says are from his wife and Emerson to Russian business leaders and others, speak of credits gurantees, an independent business consulting business involving Emerson and the need to arrange payments to offshore bank accounts.

RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent reports that EU officials with whom he has spoken say the scandal comes as the utility of programs to promote democratic values in the East are under debate. The officials say accusations of possible mismanagement of Europe's taxpayer's money could not have come at a worse time.