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MEP's expenses probed

Mark Mardell | 16:51 UK time, Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Politics, like comedy, is all in the timing.

It feels a bit like arriving back at school a day before everyone else: the Strasbourg parliament isn't exactly deserted, but fewer than usual tread its vast cavernous halls of glass and tropical creepers. Strasbourg parliament - empty staircase

MEPs had Monday off for Orthodox Easter, but I am here to do some interviews in advance of TV pieces and to knock off a few "explainers" for our coverage of the European elections.

One of the pieces I am making goes under the working title "MEPs: are they worth it?" And the latest instalment in the saga about expenses has been written today by the Crown Prosecution Service. They have advised the police to charge one-time UKIP MEP Tom Wise and his former researcher Lindsay Jenkins with one count each of false accounting contrary to the Theft Act 1968 and one count each of money laundering contrary to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Derek Frame, reviewing lawyer, CPS Special Crime Division, said: "Following the publication of a news article in October 2005 relating to Mr Wise and Ms Jenkins, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) began an investigation into Mr Wise's use of allowances. OLAF subsequently passed the investigation to Bedfordshire Police Economic Crime Unit for investigation".Tom Wise MEP

Mr Wise, who says he will stand in the June elections as an independent, denies the charges and his solicitor says it's "scandalous" that he has been charged: he's put this statement on Youtube.

UKIP's leader Nigel Farage told me he acted quickly and expelled Mr Wise from the party when the allegations first surfaced some years ago. "I had no hesitation in getting rid of him. Contrast what we've done to other parties: there's an MEP here from one of the two big parties who's been asked to repay half a million pounds and yet that party keeps him here. When we have problems we deal with them very harshly indeed."

But he's hinting there are political dirty tricks behind the timing of the charges. "It's extraordinary. This has been going on for three years and yet 38 days before the European election he is going to appear in the magistrates court. I would have to be politically naive if I didn't think there was a certain political element to this."

So could he spell out what he thought was going on? "You'll have to ask that question to the CPS, but the timing is pretty extraordinary. You know he has been bailed and re-bailed, it could have come to court six months ago."

I have asked the CPS and will let you know what they say when they come back to me.

UPDATE (1650): The Crown Prosecution Service say: "We are an independent prosecution authority and once we have made a decision we are obliged to inform those concerned at the earliest opportunity".


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