European Parliament lawmaker says some EU quake aid for Italy appears to have been misused

BRUSSELS – Controversy has broken out in the European Parliament over the alleged misuse of European Union aid money for the survivors of a devastating 2009 earthquake in Italy.

Soren Bo Sondergaard, a Danish member of the parliament, said Thursday he visited a new development of 60 houses in the L’Aquila area where the quake struck. The homes are empty because they’ve been deemed unfit to live in, he said, adding that the funds to build them either went to criminals or “unbelievably stupid people.”

An Italian member of the parliament attempted Thursday to rebut Sondergaard’s findings point by point. The European Commission is also disputing the Danish lawmaker’s allegations, with a spokeswoman saying that EU aid has been “monitored carefully.”

The EU authorized 494 million euros ($667 million) from its Solidarity Fund to help victims of the quake, which killed more than 300 people and damaged thousands of buildings in L’Aquila and the Abruzzo region of Italy.

Sondergaard this week submitted a scathing written report to the European Parliament on how the money was spent. Its bottom line: too much was paid for too little.

“And that is a shame for the taxpayers in Europe, and even more it is a shame for the people of L’Aquila,” Sondergaard said Thursday.

His findings were furiously contested by an Italian colleague, Crescenzio Rivellini, who said local Interior Ministry officials have found no proof that relief contracts in L’Aquila were awarded to criminal syndicates. He said it was “false and above all defamatory” to suggest construction jobs may have gone to businesses with direct or indirect ties to organized crime, and that Sondergaard’s claims had caused “enormous damage to Italy’s image.”

As for the Danish lawmaker’s finding that housing built for quake survivors has “quality” problems, Rivellini called that “false and tendentious,” and said it wasn’t based on any technical or engineering report.

Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed.