EU trade chief in court this month for tax fraud

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Union's Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht will appear in a Belgian court on November 25 to face claims of 900,000 euros in unpaid taxes, Belgian dailies reported Friday.

The former Belgian foreign minister, who is currently playing a key role in trade talks with Asian nations and the United States, has informed the head of the EU executive of the dispute, a European Commission spokesman told reporters.

The commissioner has fought since 2005 to prevent tax inspectors from gaining access to his bank records.

Belgian tax authorities are pursuing gains from the sale of shares and the purchase of a home in Tuscany, business dailies L'Echo and De Tijd reported.

Mr De Gucht's lawyer disputes both the dates and the tax office's claim of "fraud".

The EU spokesman said Mr De Gucht told commission president Jose Manuel Barroso that he broke no laws in the present case.

"This is a long-standing case that is moving to a new stage but on which there is still no decision and pending which the presumption of innocence applies," she said.

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