Auteur: Honor Mahony
BRUSSELS - Belgium's EU commissioner is to appear before court later this month in a case that involves charges of tax fraud.
Karel De Gucht i, in charge of EU trade, was last year accused by Belgian tax authorities of failing to declare €1.2 million on a share transaction in 2005.
The tax authorities want him to pay €900,000 - a sum that would represent tax on the original amount; plus an additional amount for non-payment; plus interest on the unpaid amount.
As both sides failed to reach agreement on the levy, the matter will go to court on 25 November, Belgian media reported on Friday (7 November).
For its part, the European Commission says the De Gucht case is a "private" matter which involves events before he became the EU's top trade official.
But the news comes at an awkward time for EU institutions.
It emerged just days before the latest round of talks between the EU and US on a broad trade deal.
It also comes in the wider context of an EU fight against tax evasion.
The issue has become more politically sensitive since the start of the economic crisis.
The commission itself estimates that €1 trillion is lost each year in the EU to tax evasion and avoidance. It published an action plan on how to tackle the problems in December.
It indicated on Friday it will stand behind De Gucht, whose lawyers have rejected the tax office's accusation of "fraud."
"We are going to respect the presumption of innocence," commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said.
She added that De Gucht had spoken to commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Friday morning and assured him there was no wrongdoing.
"This enquiry concerns issues that are unrelated to the functions of a commissioner," she said.