Nigel Farage among Ukip MEPs accused of misusing EU funds

Eight Ukip MEPs including Paul Nuttall may be forced to repay £500,000 if they are found to have breached EU funding rules

Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall and six other Ukip MEPs are under investigation by the European parliament for alleged misuse of funds, which could lead to repayment demands totalling £500,000.

Financial controllers are looking into eight of Ukip’s 20 MEPs, who are suspected of having broken rules that ban full-time EU-funded parliamentary assistants from working for the national party.

It is understood that Farage and his fellow Ukip MEP Raymond Finch will be asked to repay around £84,000 paid to their joint assistant, Christopher Adams, who is also Ukip’s national nominating officer. Adams is described as one of the party’s “key people” on its website. Parliament officials have suspended Adams’s contract because they are not convinced he was working as an MEP assistant.

Under EU rules, full-time MEP assistants are not allowed to do paid work for a national political party; part-time assistants need to have second jobs, paid and voluntary, vetted by European parliament authorities to prevent a conflict of interest.

Financial controllers are investigating the work of several other MEP assistants, where they suspect a conflict of interest between their EU-paid job and national party role. It is understood three of the assistants worked for Nuttall, who is vying to become Ukip’s second MP in Westminster in the Stoke-on-Trent Central byelection later this month.

Each of the European parliament’s 751 MEPs is entitled to €23,400 a month to pay for staff to run offices in Brussels and their home constituencies, plus a further €4,342 in office expenses. If Ukip MEPs had claimed the full allowance in 2016, the total sums involved would have been €7.3m.

Farage’s wife, Kirsten, is caught up in the investigation because she was paid as an MEP assistant while running her husband’s office for the national party.

Kirsten Farage was named as an assistant to Finch, who represents the party in the south-east of England. He has been asked to repay more than £20,000 over her employment because the European parliament’s financial controllers were not convinced she was doing real work as his assistant.

Finch employed Kirsten Farage in his constituency office to do secretarial work between 2014 and 2016. During the same period, she was full-time office manager for her husband, according to European parliament information.

Roger Helmer, a Conservative defector known for his controversial remarks on climate change and rape, faces a repayment bill of about £95,000 for employing the Ukip chairman, Paul Oakden, as his assistant. Oakden, who held the post of party director while working for Helmer, emerged into the spotlight last autumn as he sought to steady the party during the rocky period of the leadership contests to replace Farage.

One source estimated that Ukip MEPs could be asked to repay about £500,000 in EU funds if the party is shown to have broken the rules in each case currently under investigation. It is understood that the other MEPs being investigated are Jonathan Arnott, Louise Bours, James Carver and Margot Parker.

A Ukip spokesman rejected the allegations. “We have been here [as elected MEPs] since 1999 and have scrupulously applied the rules of the European parliament with very few problems. It would appear that post-Brexit there is an element of vindictiveness in the way in which the European parliament is behaving.

“We are appealing each and every one of the allegations that have been made.”

Helmer, who faces the largest bill known so far, said the parliament administration had “mistakenly” got the idea that Oakden worked for him full time. “So far as I am concerned there is no case to answer – merely an administrative misunderstanding to resolve.”

If MEPs refuse to repay misspent funds, parliament can withhold up to half their annual salaries (€79,332 a year after tax) and daily allowances (€52,104 a year), until the money has been recouped.

The European parliament’s financial controllers began the latest checks after a separate investigation revealed that a Ukip-dominated group in the institution had misspent more than €500,000 of EU money. The Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe, a Ukip-controlled pan-European party, was found to have spent EU funds on Nigel Farage’s failed attempt to win a seat in Westminster, flouting the ban on using European money for national campaigns.

Parliament is considering extending its investigation to the 2009-14 legislature, when Ukip had 13 MEPs. The current inquiry covers the current parliament, elected in June 2014.

Ukip is not the only party accused of misspending EU money to fund its national activities. The leader of France’s far-right Front National, Marine Le Pen, was last year ordered to repay €339,000, after the EU’s anti-fraud office, Olaf, found she had misused EU funds following a European parliament inquiry. The French presidential hopeful had received EU funds to pay the salaries of two assistants, but the anti-fraud watchdog said the pair worked almost entirely for the national party.

The FN leader missed a deadline at midnight on Tuesday to repay the money and now faces losing half her salary and allowance. Le Pen has denied allegations of fraud and says she will not “submit to persecution” by repaying the money.

The European parliament has played a vital role in Ukip’s political success, giving the Eurosceptic party a platform and funding it has never matched on the domestic stage.

A spokesperson for the European parliament declined to comment on the ongoing investigation. Olaf referred questions back to the European parliament.

Nicholas Aiossa, a campaigner at Transparency International, said the Ukip case may need to be referred to the EU anti-fraud office. “Recovery of these funds is essential, but the parliament needs to take a harder look at whether MEPs have been intentionally engaging in fraudulent activities and if so they should refer these cases to Olaf.”


Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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