Head Of Union Organization Fired After Eu Donation Probe

BRUSSELS (AP) — An organization representing trade unions around the world has fired its general secretary after he admitted accepting donations from a suspect in a major European cash-for-influence scandal, saying that the affair has severely damaged its reputation.

The International Trade Union Confederation, which claims to represent around 200 million workers worldwide, said in a statement issued after a weekend meeting that “Luca Visentini no longer had the confidence of the General Council as ITUC General Secretary.”

Visentini was named to the post in November but was suspended the following month after he was taken into custody by Belgian prosecutors investigating whether a criminal organization had accepted bribes from representatives from Qatar and Morocco to influence decisions at the European Parliament.

Visentini was not charged in the affair and denies involvement in any corruption, but was suspended by ITUC after he was taken into custody. He has admitted accepting a donation from a charity group set up by the man at the center of the scandal, Pier Antonio Panzeri, a former European Union lawmaker.

ITUC’s public affairs office refused to reply to emails or accept phone calls from reporters in the weeks after Belgian prosecutors launched several raids in Brussels in December, seizing hundreds of thousands of euros in cash.

“The events of the past few months have caused significant damage to the ITUC’s reputation,” Akiko Gono, the confederation's president, said in the statement, posted on its website Saturday. ITUC says it has 332 affiliated organizations in 163 countries and territories.

A special commission set up to investigate the allegations against Visentini “found no evidence of donations from either Qatar or Morocco influencing the ITUC’s policies or program,” the organization said. The statement said “an extraordinary ITUC World Congress” would be organized soon to name Visentini's permanent successor.

Panzeri, an Italian national, and three others were charged with corruption, money laundering and membership of a criminal organization over what is the EU parliament's biggest corruption scandal. He recently reached an agreement with prosecutors, promising to name names and spell out how the bribes were paid in exchange for a lighter sentence.