leader of the centre-Right EPP|
The newly-elected leader of the European Parliament's centre-Right bloc has been hit by revelations that he is under investigation for the alleged misuse of public funds.
Joseph Daul, a French MEP and former beef farmers' leader, was elected president of the European People's Party on Tuesday, beating off a challenge from reformist centre-Right MEPs, including the British Conservatives.
Mr Daul, 59, has been under investigation since 2004 as part of a broader judicial inquiry into the alleged misuse of agriculture funds worth €16 million (£10.6 million) by French farming unions between 1991 and 1999.
He stresses that he "co-operated fully" with the French authorities and that he "has not been charged or indicted".
Mr Daul is not accused of having personally benefited from mismanaged cash but of "complicity and concealment of the abuse of public funds".
He accuses the UK Independence Party of exhuming the affair for political purposes and is said to have announced his intention to "bring an action" against the group's leader, Nigel Farage.
"Mr Daul does not and will not accept that honesty and propriety have been called into question," said his spokesman.
"Mr Daul has not been challenged personally. It is an investigation into the method by which public funds were distributed in the past."
Mr Daul is a central figure in the politically powerful French farming lobby. He led calls for a ban on British beef during the BSE crisis of the 1990s.
Close to President Jacques Chirac and his heir apparent Nicolas Sarkozy, the MEP represents East France. His election to lead the European People's Party was a close fought race as Nordic, Eastern European and British centre-Right Euro MPs mounted a reformist challenge, taking 46 per cent of the vote.
"This latest twist will be a shot across the bows of the Franco-German alliance. It will not upset the reformers if Mr Daul suffers," said one source.
Ukip has sought to use the affair to put pressure on the Conservatives after David Cameron delayed a decision to leave the EPP grouping.
"I hope the Tories are happy with their new leader in the EPP," said Mr Farage.
The Conservatives have declined to comment on Mr Daul's difficulties, stressing they are not fully associated with the EPP.
"We are pulling out anyway in 2009," said a spokesman.
The scandal has not only ensnared Mr Daul. Two French agriculture ministers and one finance minister have been sucked into an investigation led by an investigating judge, Henri Pons.
Mr Pons is said to have handed papers on the case to the legal authorities.
A trial decision is not expected until after the French presidential elections in April.
Mr Daul is not thought to have discussed the investigation with colleagues.
"His examination was reported in the French press, so he may have felt there was no need to tell everyone, he may have assumed they knew. But nothing was hidden," said his spokesman.